If Maryland's offense is to have any success Saturday against Clemson defense that has allowed only 12.8 points per game this season, it must keep the large and quick Tigers guessing all afternoon.
Maryland's offense has produced 2,087 yards rushing and 1,872 passing this season, which reflects a balanced approach. Contrary to the image the Terrapins built with long passes against Penn State and West Virginia in the first two games, they do not not rely primarily on an ability to go deep. More important, the Terrapins are unpredictable, one reason they are ranked ninth nationally in scoring offense and 14th in total offense.
There will probably be some long passes from the Terrapins at 12:30 Saturday at Byrd Field. But Clemson may not know when they're coming.
"I think we've got to throw," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said earlier this week. "But we really have to mix it up and hopefully mix them up."
Clemson, the defending national champion, wouldn't be the first team to find Maryland's offense difficult to defend against or even comprehend.
The multiple pro offense installed by Ross could be more complicated than any other in the college game. It has enabled Maryland, with many of the same players who won four of 11 games last year, to win seven straight this year and score more than 30 points against five of nine opponents, including nationally ranked Penn State and North Carolina.
Maryland, like most teams, starts with a basic play, then disguises it by running from more than one formation and further delays revealing the formation by having receivers or backs go in motion. Few teams have had such success with the deception.
"We may take one pass and throw it from four different formations," said offensive coordinator Joe Krivak, who calls such trickery "changing the window dressing."
Maryland also is capable of running from what look like passing formations, and passing from apparent running formations. Said Krivak, "That way, the opposing defense can't gang up on the run or gang up on the pass."
One of Maryland's most successful plays this season has been the sweep, in which one play can become four different plays. The sweep toss goes to the fullback, and the sweep pitchout is run by the tailback. The play is designed to go left or right, usually at the quarterback's discretion.
Two weeks ago against North Carolina, for example, Dave D'Addio ran the sweep toss from the fullback position 18 yards around left end for a touchdown. Later in the game, Willie Joyner ran the sweep 49 yards from the tailback position around right end for another score.
Running back John Nash has thrown the ball once from each sweep formation, creating yet another option. The play also can be run from the I formation or a split-back backfield. "It's been a real good play for us," said Krivak. "It's a bread-and-butter play."
Pass plays are usually more complicated, with clearly defined alternatives for the receivers and quarterback. Receivers are permitted to make their own judgments if forced to abandon their original patterns. Quarterback Boomer Esiason has the option to change calls at the line.
Proper execution, against sophisticated teams such as Clemson, requires a quarterback who knows the offense as well as the coach who designed it.
Several alternatives might be necessary, just in case a fellow like William Perry, Clemson's 310-pound nose guard who is called "the Refrigerator" (by his friends), isn't lined up where expected.
Maryland's coaches think they have that poised, analytical quarterback in Esiason.
"I think Boomer is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country," Krivak said. "Our offense is tailor-made for him. It allows him to show his talents. He has lots of physical ability. But just as important, Esiason knows our offense as well as anybody."
It helps Esiason and the coaching staff that so many Maryland players have enough of an appreciation about the overall game to understand, then execute the offense.
Maryland does not have overwhelming size: a walk around its locker room will tell anyone that. The starting defensive guards weigh 235 pounds; Clemson's defensive line averages about 265 pounds.
None of Maryland's running backs or receivers has world-class speed. But moderately talented players with good work habits and knowledge of the shifts and formations have created a successful offense. They also hide its weaknesses.
"Maybe we don't have the most talent or best speed in the league," said Krivak. "But we have a blending of factors -- kids who have worked hard to learn what we want to do. We'd like to think that balance in many phases has something to do with that."