Maryland's great thundering land turtles, snared with increasing frequency in recent years by opponents' stacked defenses, are searching for an easier route to touchdown territory. Whether they can mount a consistent passing offense is a key to the Terrapins' success and the determining factor in whether they will be more interesting to watch.

"The last two years we have completed less than 50 percent of our passes," Coach Jerry Claiborne said. "We have to complete 55 percent to be effective. We want to increase our efficiency and, if we can, it will help to open up our running game.

"We need a little more speed in our wide people to get them (the opposition) off our backs. If they don't think we can go deep, we've got problems. If we can't throw, we'll have to run with two tight ends."

That alternative might overpower enough outmanned rivals to give Claiborne a ninth straight winning season, but it would not fill those 30,000 beckoning seats at Byrd Stadium, where 15,000 student spectators and the 11,000 season-ticket holders of 1980 do not ensure profit.

Only one of Maryland's present wide receiver candidates, junior wingback Mike Lewis, caught a pass last season; he had 10 for 174 yards. The Terrapins passed for only 1,316 yards, 84 fewer than tailback Charlie Wysocki gained on the ground.

The Terrapins enjoyed some success passing in spring practice, with senior Bob Milkovich sharp on rollouts and sophomore Boomer Esiason impressing at longer range. The third quarterback candidate is junior Brent Dewitz.

A further complication in the offensive execution is the absence of an experienced center. Ex-guards Todd Wright and Vince Tomasetti are contending for the starter's job.

If consistent passing would stifle the yawns in the stands, it would not necessarily guarantee success. Maryland's defense, the savior in so many of Claiborne's winning seasons, has a possible soft spot.

"The secondary is our biggest challenge," Claiborne said. "We have no lettermen at all. We have people we think are qualified, but they don't have game experience."

Claiborne is not sure anyone is qualified to be a punter or place-kicker, and the successor to all-America Dale Castro in either role is not to be envied. The Terrapins have ample possibilities with strong legs, but so far there has been no evidence of consistency in either area.