Maryland Coach Bobby Ross has been saying for six weeks that his team's pass defense has improved but would be severely tested "down the road."
That time has arrived. Wake Forest, the most pass-oriented team in Atlantic Coast Conference history, visits Maryland on Saturday, bringing with it an offense that seems perfectly suited to test the Terrapins.
Maryland's pass defense has allowed 60 yards fewer per game this year than last, but is still ranked last in the ACC. Opposing teams have averaged 208 yards per game and completed 55 percent of their passes.
The Demon Deacons (3-3 overall, 0-2 in the ACC), with junior quarterback Gary Schofield, have attempted more passes (201) than any other team in the conference.
Last year, Schofield completed 43 of 62 passes for 504 yards and two touchdowns. Maryland won, 45-33, but the Deacons completed a then-NCAA record 47 passes for 556 yards. Wake called 81 passing plays in the game, including sacks and penalties. They had 20 rushing plays for minus-47 yards.
"They hit us everywhere," said Terrapin defensive end Brian Baker. "It was helter-skelter trying to defend against them. We were always chasing somebody with the ball."
With Maryland's rushing defense ranked third in the nation, and Wake's running game ranked last in the conference, the Terrapins are expecting Schofield and the Deacons to throw at least as much as last year.
"It'll be like playing the San Diego Chargers," Baker said. "If they send in a running back it'll probably be a trick play."
Ross said Schofield is in the same class as Penn State's Todd Blackledge and West Virginia's Jeff Hostetler, two of the best passers in the nation.
"We'll see a lot more formation variation than we've seen in the past," Ross said. "We've been seeing more or less standard formations so far, but Wake is anything but standard. Our defensive secondary is going to be very much tested. They've got the weapons to challenge us defensively.
"I'm expecting 40 to 45 passes," Ross said. "I hope we have the ball long enough not to let them throw 60 times."
More than the Maryland secondary will be tested. Although Schofield is a dropback passer with an arm powerful enough to throw deep, he frequently throws screens and dumpoffs to the tight ends and running backs underneath the secondary defenders.
Maryland's underneath coverage, by its linebackers and ends, has been vulnerable and inconsistent. Blackledge and Hostetler constantly found receivers open 10 yards deep over the middle against Maryland (3-2, 1-0).
"I would expect them to try the same things that were successful (against us) last year," Baker said. "But I wouldn't expect them to come anywhere close to getting that many yards. You can't underestimate a guy who throws for 504 yards, but we're a lot improved since last year, and since the beginning of this season."
Cornerback Jon Simmons said the Terrapins will "try to intimidate" the Wake receivers early in the game and hope the defensive line, which has 20 sacks in the last three games, can do the same to Schofield.
But as Ross acknowledged, even a good pass rush can be ineffective when the opposing quarterback sets up to throw 70 times per game.
"I don't think we're apprehensive," said Simmons. "We're just very aware there's a very big job to do."
Quarterback Boomer Esiason was named ACC offensive back of the week for completing 13 of 15 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in Maryland's 38-0 win over Indiana State.