By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Da'Rel Scott delivered a sterling debut as Maryland's featured running back yesterday -- rushing for 197 yards -- but the circumstances surrounding the performance of quarterback Jordan Steffy will undoubtedly spark the most conversation in the days following the Terrapins' too-close-for-comfort 14-7 season-opening victory over Delaware.
The College Park quarterback drama that consumed training camp could continue because Steffy, who started his first game in 11 months, threw two interceptions, looked shaky much of the game and was replaced early in the fourth quarter by popular backup Chris Turner, who started the final eight games last season.
Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said Steffy injured his right thumb, but Friedgen did not know how or when the fifth-year senior got hurt. When asked if Steffy's injury was the reason the quarterback was replaced, Friedgen said: "I knew he was hurt and he didn't look like he was able to function, so I had another guy and put him in."
Three Maryland offensive players said they were not aware Steffy was hurt, and a school spokesperson had no further information on the injury or its severity. Steffy "looked good to me," Scott said. "I just thought they made a change to see what Chris could do. So I wasn't aware of it."
Center Edwin Williams also said he was unaware Steffy was hurt. And wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said Steffy did not say anything to him about the injury during the game, adding, "I don't know anything about that."
Steffy was unavailable to clarify the situation because Friedgen decided he did not want to subject Steffy to media scrutiny after the game, a school spokesperson said. Portions of the Byrd Stadium crowd of 49,119 booed Steffy sporadically throughout the third quarter. At one point, fans chanted "We want Turner!"
The Terrapins won largely because of the running of Scott, who had more rushing yards than any Maryland back since Bruce Perry in 2003 and the most in a season opener in school history. By carrying the ball 26 times, Scott almost doubled the number of career carries he had (14) entering the game.
"I wanted to set the tone and let the defense know what I can do," Scott said. "I expect this of myself."
On an 87-degree afternoon, Scott began cramping up in the second half, and Friedgen noticed him being tackled during runs on which he would normally break away from defenders. Nevertheless, Friedgen felt the offense displayed a strong 1-2 punch with Scott and Davin Meggett.
Meggett, a freshman, introduced himself to Maryland fans with a 52-yard rushing performance on just seven carries. He scored on a 14-yard third-quarter run -- high-stepping over a diving tackler -- to give the Terrapins a two-touchdown lead and some much-needed breathing room against their division I-AA opponent.
Friedgen said offensive coordinator James Franklin called a "pretty good game," even though producing points proved more difficult than moving the ball. Maryland drove the ball inside the Delaware 31 on seven occasions, but the Terrapins missed three field goal attempts.
After suggesting throughout training camp that he would likely play three quarterbacks this season, Friedgen played all three in the first game. Third-stringer Josh Portis, the athletic dual-threat option, came in for four plays and rushed for 13 yards on four carries. Friedgen said Portis had the option to throw but that Delaware's defense gave him the run.
"Portis brings a change of tempo and gets the defense thinking," Heyward-Bey said.
Steffy completed 10 of 18 passes for 115 yards before being relieved. His 36-yard completion to Heyward-Bey set up the game's first touchdown, a 12-yard run by Heyward-Bey in the second quarter. Early in the third quarter, Steffy intended to throw to Heyward-Bey but instead threw directly at Delaware linebacker Erik Johnson, who intercepted and returned it 13 yards to midfield.
The boos directed at Steffy erupted in earnest with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter when Delaware defensive lineman John Higginson knocked the ball loose from Steffy. The Terrapins recovered, but that did little to appease the fans. On the next play, fourth and 18 from the 32, Steffy fired a pass toward the end zone, but Delaware defensive back Anthony Walters intercepted at the 2.
"I thought he played pretty good in the first half," Friedgen said. "The second half, I don't know when he hurt his thumb. I don't think he said anything to us about it in the first half."
Turner completed 1 of 3 passes for 11 yards.
"Chris ended up [last] season with the starting position," Scott said, "so I guess they feel as though he can still bring something to the offense."
The Blue Hens remained in the game late in the fourth quarter, until Maryland safety Terrell Skinner intercepted a pass by quarterback Rob Schoenhoft. Despite the narrow victory, Heyward-Bey said, pausing between words for emphasis, "No. Concerns. At all."