- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

When Maryland’s passing game deteriorated last season en route to a 5-6 finish, the Terrapins quickly learned they would pay a steep price for running a one-dimensional offense.

This season, Maryland has encountered the reverse: a thriving passing game led by Sam Hollenbach coupled with a struggling rushing attack that totaled 106 yards in back-to-back losses to Clemson and West Virginia.

The biggest dilemma for the Terps (1-2, 0-1 ACC), who visit Wake Forest (1-2, 0-0) tomorrow, might be that there’s no one thing to blame for the running game’s woes. A combination of inexperience, injuries and ineffectiveness — among both the running backs and the offensive line — has contributed to the inconsistency.

“We’re not where we need to be at all,” offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “I don’t have any quick fixes or any quick formulas. If we did we did, obviously we’d use it.”

No rusher has emerged as a No. 1 back, something of a surprise after senior Mario Merrills ran for 149 yards in the season opener against Navy. He has managed only 56 yards since, but neither Lance Ball (5 yards on seven carries in Saturday’s 31-19 loss to West Virginia) nor Keon Lattimore (one carry last week) has proved to be more reliable.

“It’s not disappointing, because in my heart I still know I am the guy,” Merrills said. “I just need to go out there and produce. I think with the opportunity I’ve had, I’ve done well. But it’s all about the numbers, and at the end of the day, if we’re not winning I’m not doing as well as I can do.”

While the running backs haven’t been perfect, the offensive line has endured problems since before the season. The already-thin unit lost starting left tackle Stephon Heyer in camp with a torn ACL in his left knee, and 270-pound tight end Derek Miller was moved to take his place.

That left the Terps undersized up front, though the emergence of 6-foot-9, 330-pound freshman Jared Gaither at left tackle should make the line beefier. It also allows Miller to shift back to tight end, where he had played his entire career before last month.

That switch should help some, but the line simply lacks experience. The starting five had a combined seven career starts entering the season, and the group is still getting accustomed to playing with each other.

“Fifty yards last week just isn’t going to cut it,” left guard Donnie Woods said. “… We just have to step up and do our part. Even dating back to last year, we couldn’t run the ball well. It’s coming tough. It’s making some guys upset. I’m sure some running backs are a little upset. I’m sure everyone’s upset.”

In the last two games, Hollenbach has given the Terps chances to win. The junior has become comfortable with several receivers, particularly tight end Vernon Davis, who surpassed 100 yards in both games.

However, Taaffe pointed out many of the Terps’ successful passes have come in play action when opponents have guarded against the run. Eventually, defenses will learn to ignore the fakes — unless the Terps’ ground game can become more potent.

“If we got that element going, we’d be pretty good offensively,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I think it’s going to come. We just have to keep working at it. Maybe we make them defend the pass more, and maybe that opens up the run. I know we’re going to have both as long as I’m here. If you’re one-dimensional, it makes it very easy to defend you. …

“I can tell you right now, you don’t have to be Knute Rockne to figure out they’re going to defend the pass. They’re going to make us beat them running the ball.”

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