- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Maryland quarterback Joel Statham finally gets his first chance at a second look this week. Too bad the initial one made him wince.

Every opponent so far this season has been virtually new to Statham, in his first year as a starter. But when the No.23 Terrapins (3-1, 1-0 ACC) meet Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-2) on Saturday at Byrd Stadium, the Yellow Jackets will look very familiar to the quarterback.

Though Statham played in six games last season — five were mop-up duty late in blowouts — the only real playing time he got was an emergency relief appearance at Georgia Tech last October. His performance was mixed in a 7-3 loss that cost the Terps a share of the ACC title and a BCS bowl berth.

Entering in the second quarter after Scott McBrien sustained a concussion, Statham completed 10 of 22 passes for 110 yards with one interception and a fumble that led to the winning score. The Yellow Jackets blitzed unmercifully, and the Terps provided Statham little time.

However, coach Ralph Friedgen saw a toughness in Statham that made the coach think Statham was a future starter. Nearly one year later, Statham gets a shot at redemption.

He has seen new things as the starter this season and has endured an uneven start, but Saturday he will have last year’s experience to draw on. For the first time Statham, who grew up in Chatsworth, Ga., is able to watch the game film of himself in action against a coming opponent.

“He got thrown in there and they started teeing off on him and bringing all the boys and blitzing like crazy,” receiver Steve Suter said. “He was under a lot of stress. I’m sure he’s looking forward to having a better showing.”

Friedgen wondered if Statham, whom the coach has made off limits to the media, will really benefit from facing a familiar opponent.

“He was ducking [blitzers],” Friedgen said. “He was thrown in that situation without much preparation. I’m not even sure how much he recalls.”

Offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe says Statham is much more prepared for, and mobile against, the Georgia Tech pass rush that leveled him often last season.

“Hopefully, he can now see himself playing in that game and build on that,” Taaffe said. “It’s amazing to watch that and watch the progress he’s made. He sees things so much better than he did a year ago.”

Maryland’s offensive line must provide Statham better pass protection even though it allowed only one sack in the previous meeting. The Terps couldn’t counter the Yellow Jackets’ outside rushers, who pressured Statham regularly. Georgia Tech graduated three standout linebackers, but defensive end Eric Henderson (11 sacks last season) is a potential All-American. It was Henderson’s hit that knocked McBrien out of last year’s game.

“We were paralyzed by their movements and how quick they were [last year],” guard Andrew Crummey said. “This year we realize we need to come off the ball [harder].”

Georgia Tech has its own quarterback issues. Reggie Ball, a freshman phenom last season, is in the midst of a sophomore slump. Coach Chan Gailey might start Patrick Carter after Ball threw six interceptions and just one touchdown in two straight losses.

“Reggie is a very competitive kid,” Friedgen said. “I was very impressed with him last year as a true freshman. He runs extremely hard, has a strong arm. I thought last year the offense was cut back for him, but he was still able to perform quite well. He’s thrown some interceptions. I don’t know if that’s all his fault. … Maybe they’re up in the air over which way to go.”

Notes — Defensive end Kevin Eli (concussion) is questionable against Georgia Tech. … Defensive end Shawne Merriman wore a Trent Dilfer throwback jersey before practice, an odd fashion statement by the pass rusher. “I’m wearing it for Joel [Statham] to give him some inspiration for the week,” Merriman said. “I don’t like quarterbacks, though.” … A win over Georgia Tech would tie Friedgen with Danny Ford (Clemson, 1979-82) for the most wins by a fourth-year ACC coach at 35.

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