The University of Maryland, 1-3-1 and almost certainly out of contention for postseason bowls, will try to find answers to a number of questions in today's 1 p.m. football game against Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Wake Forest at Winston-Salem, N.C.
Major questions include: Can the Terrapins beat a team that has an even mediocre passing game? Can they execute a series of plays, either offensively or defensively, the way it is diagrammed in the playbook? Can they reverse their losing record?
In other games, Howard (2-3) faces Virginia State (4-1) in the Bison homecoming game at RFK Stadium, 1:30; Navy, 3-2 but yet to defeat a quality opponent, visits a 1-3 Boston College team whose losses are all against teams ranked in the top 20 nationally this season, and Virginia seeks its first victory in a 7 p.m. game at South Carolina.
More than a dozen Maryland players interviewed in the last two days have attributed the team's poor start to "lack of concentration," "too many mistakes," "good opponents" and "mental breakdowns."
But Maryland's biggest problem has been its inability to formulate a pass defense. Maryland has failed to defeat any of the four teams that have passed for 250 yards or more. Run-oriented Syracuse tied Maryland, 17-17, by passing for 157 yards in the fourth quarter.
"Everybody's putting the ball in the air," said defensive tackle Gurnest Brown, who watched last week as Florida beat the Terrapins with a trick-pass touchdown from the fullback to the quarterback.
Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said yesterday that his secondary players are not as talented as the defensive backs in previous seasons. But players say linemen and linebackers have also contributed to the team's problems.
Florida's Wayne Peace completed 30 of 46 passes without throwing one pass farther than 15 yards. "It's everybody's fault," Brown said. "We've put good pressure on the quarterback. But pressure is one thing and sacks are another. We need some sacks and interceptions -- something big defensively against Wake Forest."
The Terrapins have also had difficulty tackling effectively. Both Florida field goals and the winning touchdown resulted from missed tackles.
"We've been running up to ball carriers and just missing tackles," Brown said. "It's killing us."
"I guess our concentration has slipped at times," said defensive end Howard Eubanks. "I don't know why. I really can't put my finger on one thing."
When the defense has played well, the offense has performed poorly.
"We've been moving the ball between the 20-yard lines just fine," Claiborne said. "But that's alumni yards. I want some of them coaches' yards inside the 20."
Said quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason: "Even in the N.C. State game (the Terrapins' only victory) there always seemed to be one guy messing up. Not all at the same time. But one-by-one mistakes. Somebody breaks down on an easy end sweep, or a receiver drops a pass, or I overthrow somebody. And this isn't hard stuff. We've been blowing routine plays. I don't know what it is. This team has so much talent, yet we've lost three games we should have won."
Esiason has completed only 47 percent of his passes. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 56 percent.
One aspect of the Maryland game that has been going well has been the punting of Steve Adams, who is averaging 39 yards per kick and has come up with a 50-yard punt almost every time the Terrapins have been deep in their own territory.
Despite the poor start -- the Terrapins have not won a nonconference game -- Maryland players talk incessantly about winning the conference title. But the Terrapins will be underdogs in games against Clemson and North Carolina.
"We can still finish 7-3-1," said offensive lineman Dave Pacella. "We need to win the next two games to be 3-3-1 going into the Carolina game."
Several players said the team played exceptionally well in practice this week. "We can't wait to get on the plane," Esiason said. "We're all real high. We're not going to lose to Wake. We feel real confident."
"I feel we'll have an excellent game against Wake," Brown said. "Nothing they do worries me. Except, they do pass the football pretty well."