Maryland quarterbacks Jordan Steffy and Josh Portis took snaps about 25 yards from each other Monday in one of the young season’s most intriguing dichotomies.
Steffy was preparing for his first big start, tomorrow’s meeting with No. 4 West Virginia at Byrd Stadium. Portis, declared ineligible for the season after violating the school’s code of academic integrity, was arguably in the midst of his most significant week of the season as well.
Portis won’t see the field against the Mountaineers (2-0), but he is providing an invaluable imitation of West Virginia quarterback Pat White. And while it’s near-impossible to mine for benefits of the sophomore’s woes, the presence of Portis on the scout team this week figures to help the Terrapins (2-0) immeasurably.
“Without a guy like Portis back there to run that option, I can’t say we would be as prepared as much as we are going to be,” safety Christian Varner said. “He just gives us so many looks. You just can’t duplicate that speed.”
Portis was not made available for interviews this week, and coach Ralph Friedgen repeatedly said he will try to continue the shifty quarterback’s growth this fall while also using him in practice roles to help improve the rest of the team. He probably had this week in mind considering White’s influence on West Virginia’s success.
The Mountaineers’ spread option scheme relies on an athletic quarterback who makes few mistakes but also is a threat to chew up yardage on the ground. Even when tailback Steve Slaton struggles, White remains an electric player who must be accounted for whether he’s in the pocket, running the option or just taking off on his own.
Sort of like Portis.
“He’s done a good job so far and hopefully he’ll continue,” Friedgen said. “He’s very much like White and I’m sure he’s helped get our defense ready.”
Both White and Slaton are among the Big East’s cadre of Heisman Trophy candidates, and Maryland remembers all too well how Slaton was on pace to make it to Wheeling by sunrise after rushing for 149 yards in the first quarter last season.
Slaton, though, receives a limited number of carries each game. White touches the ball on every play on offense, and his slipperiness is difficult to gauge. Portis’ play in practice eliminates any false sense of security, but he has also given his teammates a workout.
“We ran a couple quarterback draws today and he’s cutting it back and forth and as a defense we’re getting mad because we’re running all over the field,” defensive tackle Carlos Feliciano said. “He’s only there to prepare us and only doing what he’s told to.”
Not to mention what comes natural to him. Friedgen described Portis weaving around otherwise solid defenders several times throughout camp, sometimes turning a sure loss into a first down or more. White is a slightly smaller player but just as adept at creating opportunities for himself and perhaps more lethal in the open field.
White created his own share of headaches against Maryland in Morgantown, rushing for 85 yards on 12 carries, so it’s no surprise Portis is causing some aggravation — and aggression — this week from a defense still grumpy about the pummeling it absorbed.
“It’s rough. He’s still a quarterback and we don’t want to hit him, but at the same time we’re saying, ‘You look like Pat White. I want to hit you,’ ” Varner said. “We hit him a couple times and had to catch ourselves because he’s still a quarterback and we don’t want to hurt him. But he caught a few serious blows.”
The Terps will need to dish out a few more to White if they have any hope of an upset. The Mountaineers are 17-1 when White scampers for at least 60 yards, even if he doesn’t receive as many plaudits for his play as Slaton.
“We know that White is the rock of their offense,” Varner said. “He keeps them going when things are going bad. We have a lot of respect for the guy. We know it’s going to come down to what we do to him that’s going to stop their offense. If we can’t contain him, then no matter what we do to anybody else they still may be able to pull away from us.”
Notes — Redshirt freshman LaQuan Williams is ahead of junior Isaiah Williams on this week’s depth chart at wide receiver. Redshirt freshman Adrian Moten is no longer listed at middle linebacker, though Friedgen said he still could play there. … Friedgen said he awarded a scholarship to senior field goal snapper Brendan McDermond.