With Turner, Terps Have QB Decision
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Shortly after he took over for injured starter Jordan Steffy, Maryland quarterback Chris Turner found himself in the huddle, surrounded by teammates who weren't quite sure what to make of the sophomore facing his first pressure situation as a collegiate player.
It was early in the third quarter and Maryland was trailing Rutgers by three points before 43,803 fans -- the second-largest crowd in Rutgers history. Turner's teammates soon discovered that things were going to be fine.
"He was real calm in there, cracked a couple of jokes just to take the pressure off us because we really didn't know what to expect," senior running back Lance Ball said.
A few plays later, Turner, 20, drove home the point. "He came into the huddle and said 'I'll be fine. Let's go,' " senior running back Keon Lattimore said. "It's the way he said it that gave us confidence."
And with that, on a stunning Saturday afternoon, a Terrapins quarterback controversy was born, as Turner rallied Maryland to a 34-24 upset of the then-No. 10 Scarlet Knights.
Steffy believed that he had answered all of the questions regarding his status as the Maryland starter during the team's fall camp, easily winning a competition for the job. When he struggled during the Terrapins' first four games, Coach Ralph Friedgen stood behind him, saying publicly last week that he was not tempted to switch quarterbacks.
But when Steffy left the game late in the second quarter last Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury and a concussion, Friedgen was forced to call on Turner. Turner's play has forced Friedgen to again address the question of who will be his starter.
A Maryland spokesman said yesterday that Steffy's status for this Saturday's game against ACC rival Georgia Tech in College Park is questionable because the junior quarterback is still feeling the effects of the concussion. But even if Steffy is healthy enough to play, Friedgen did not rule out the possibility that Turner could play against the Yellow Jackets.
"It could be that I play both," Friedgen said. "Right now, I'm going to play the best guy. I look at it as a positive. I think [Saturday] that we found out we have another guy we can win with."
After the Rutgers game, Turner admitted that he's thought of the possibility of starting against Georgia Tech. "It's definitely crossed my mind," he said.
Turner shook off some early nerves Saturday and finished 14 of 20 for 149 yards without an interception or a touchdown. On the seven offensive drives that Turner led, the Terrapins were in position to score on six of them. Turner even had one touchdown pass called back because of a penalty.
But perhaps even more striking than his statistics was the way that Turner managed to raise the level of the players around him -- a phenomenon noticeably absent from the Terrapins offense during Steffy's first four starts.
"He didn't get excited and it was almost a rallying point for our team," said Friedgen, who at halftime had told Turner to try to treat the game like a scrimmage. "Sometimes you don't know how people are going to respond. Sometimes you have to be ready when the opportunity comes and his opportunity came and he did a good job. I'll definitely reevaluate the whole situation, but I look at it as a positive and not a negative."
With Turner behind center, the offense put on its best performance of the season. Maryland's pass protection, which had been an issue during the first four games, followed through on its halftime promise and didn't allow Turner to get sacked. The team's wide receivers, who had struggled to get open this season, made plays for the new quarterback, highlighted by freshman LaQuan Williams's diving catch to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Lattimore.
As a result, Friedgen said he felt more confident with his play-calling. In the fourth quarter, Friedgen ended a recent trend of conservative play-calling by eschewing running plays for more aggressive pass plays.
"I, as a coach, I can tell you, I feel more confident throwing the ball when we've got people making plays and we're not getting sacked," Friedgen said. "It helps my play-calling because I feel we have a chance to be successful."