Football coaches, as a group, are extremely conservative. They do not like to take chances that can create mistakes, and any coach will tell you mistakes decide football games.
But even viewed in a world filled with men who consider black shoes and white socks fashionable, Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne has to be considered conservative. in fact, when it comes to play-calling, on a scale of 1 to 10, Claiborne is about a 12 in terms of caution.
Right now, that kind of play-calling is creating problems for the 3-2 terrapins.When one asks Claiborne about his play-calling, the coach becomes defensive.
"We've used the same offense for the past seven years, why change now?" he said in answer to a question yesterday. "We've done pretty good, haven't we?" s
Claiborne has and when he falls back on his record as an answer to questions about his offense, he is on firm footing. But the coaching philosophy that consistently has beaten Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia and Villanova has not beaten Penn State Texas or Tennessee. And that is why Maryland wears the label Claiborne hates so much: losers in big games.
Last Saturday's Penn State loss was a case in point. On their first three possessions, the terps ran nine plays -- eight runs, the ninth a pass play on which Mike Tice was sacked. Maryland did not throw a pass until the score was 10-0, Penn State. Two weeks ago in a 14-7 loss to Kentucky, Maryland did not throw a pass in the first quarter.
Looking back further, consider these statistics: in spite of being behind from the outset, having to throw for much of the second half in its last two games, Maryland still has run the ball more than 70 percent of the time this season. Eric Sievers, who has notplayed since the third quarter of the season's second game, is still the team's third-leading receiver with four catches.
In each of this season's five games, Maryland's first offensive play has been a run by tailback Charlie Wysocki. In fact, in 19 of Maryland's past 27 games, the tailback has carried on the first play. In just three games has Claiborne's first call been a pass.
What would happen Saturday at North Carolina State if Tice faked the ball to Wysocki and threw to Gray Ellis? He might send shock waves throughout the state.
It isn't likely to happen, though. One reason for Claiborne's caution is that on occasion, when he has tried to open things up, he has been burned. In 1974 at Penn State he tried a pass on the first play; it was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Last week he tried a flea-flicker and Tice was sacked for a 12-yard loss.dont expect to see the play again soon. a
"A lot of it has to do with field position," Jerry Eisaman, offensive coordinator, said yesterday. "Sure, teams know if we're backed up inside the 20 we're going to try to run the football. Last week when we did try a pass in there someone missed a block and we fumbled on the two-yard line.
"You can't point your finger at one player or one position. It seems like we've got a different problem on each play. Someone misses a block. The tailback doesn't hit the hole. The quarterback throws to the wrong reciver. The receiver drops the ball. It isn't any one thing that is stopping us."
Claiborne and Tice agree that confidence can be a factor for the 6-foot-7, 230-pound junior. Eisaman decided after the Penn State debacle that he was asking too much of Tice in terms of reading defenses. So, Tice will have fewer pass options to work with this week.
But Tice seemed prepared before the Penn State game because Claiborne and Eisaman had put in some quick passes, almost sure completions. Most of the offensive unit felt these passes would open things up and -- most importantly -- might make things a little easier on Wysocki, the object of defensive keys.
But those quick passes never materialized, and by the time Maryland started passing it was because it had no choice. As Eisaman put it, "When that happened, Penn State just laid their ears back, and came at us."
Several players openly were disappointed about the play-calling after the game. One starter said he was "surprised we waited so long to open it up." Another added glumly: "This was going to be the week we finally got away from Charlie right, Charlie left and for variety Charlie up the middle."
Maryland must get away from that kind of offense not only for Tice's sake but for Wysocki's sake. After averaging about 160 yards a game the first three weeks the tough-running sophomore has had 110 yards the last two weeks combined. Defenses are lying in wait for him.
To open up those defenses, Tice must improve his 39 percent season pass accuracy. It would do wonders for his confidence to complete some passes early against N.C. State -- no matter how short the pickups.
Perhaps Tice hit on Maryland's problem last week when he mentioned how hard the offensive line had been working on its pass-blocking that week. "You know," he said, "you really can't blame them for having some problems pass-blocking. They just haven't practiced it that much."
Which brings us full circle to the basic Claiborne philosophy: KISS -- Keep It Simple, Stupid. If he could, Claiborne never would call a play for anyone but the tailback. To him, the pass is a sometimes necessary evil used for two reasons: to set up the running game, and when there is no other choice out to pass.
With five of its six remaining games against ACC opponents, are beatable and none has a defense of Penn State's calibre. In fact N.c. sTate gave up to 44 points in its loss to auburn.
But if the Terps are to accomplish their two major goals, the ACC championship and another bowl bid, they must pass effectively. And to pass effectively they not only must get better performances from the entire offensive unit, they must add the element of surprise.
Injuries and field position have played a large role in Claiborne's desire to keep his offense simple, and it is to his credit that he has refused to use the injuries as an excuse.
The Terps are last in the ACC in total offense and have scored two touchdowns the last two weeks.