Early September has not been a good time for Maryland's offense. November, fine. September, the Terrapins struggle through dropped passes, missed blocks, poor reads and not enough points scored.
The Terrapins have lost three of their last four opening games and their last three second games, going into Saturday's game against Boston College. The offense certainly wasn't fully responsible for those losses, but it didn't play up to potential in most of them. Saturday's 20-18 loss to Penn State was no exception.
"The passing game was off-synch in a lot of different ways," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said yesterday. "One time, protection would break down; the next time, we wouldn't throw the ball well; the next time, we'd bust the pass route, and the next time, we wouldn't catch the ball.
"There was just an overall inconsistency in the passing game; it's not any one individual . . . I'm trying to be as objective about this as I can. I think we played reasonably well. Of course, the longer you go, the better you get. But we were a little hesitant at times and I don't know why."
When asked if he would do anything this week to shake up the offense, Ross said, "We're going to stick with what we do, but just do it better."
Maryland averaged 237 yards passing per game last season as quarterbacks Frank Reich and Stan Gelbaugh completed 62 pecent of their passes. Saturday, Maryland gained 137 yards as Gelbaugh completed nine of 22 passes.
"Stan Gelbaugh has taken some criticism for what happened," Ross said. "He didn't play a great game but he didn't play a poor game, either. I think he came back well. When you throw two interceptions in your first three passes it brings about a certain caution, on his part and ours (the coaching staff) . . . We went to the running game more than we would like to have."
Ross repeated that nothing was wrong with Gelbaugh's arm, as some television analysts suggested Saturday.
The inefficiency of the screen-pass game -- a key to their offense -- hurt the Terrapins. Fullback Rick Badanjek said the screens suffered because Penn State changed coverage from zone to man to man. Ross said Penn State did a good job of defending the screen, but the man coverage was nothing Maryland hadn't seen.
On one screen pass, Gelbaugh was sacked. "We know what we're supposed to do; that's what got me angry," Ross said. "We took a sack and we should have thrown the ball away."
One theory concerning Maryland's slow start with its passing game is that the concepts are so complex, it takes more than one game to get the timing exact.
In 1982, the Terrapins started 0-2, with the offense having a good game at Penn State (31 points) but a mediocre showing at West Virginia. In the 1983 opener, the Boomer Esiason-quarterbacked offense barely got out of Vanderbilt with a 21-14 victory, and Maryland had trouble scoring the next week in a loss to West Virginia. Last season, the Terrapins scored a total of 21 points in the first two games, losing to Vanderbilt and Syracuse.
But the Terrapins wound up with winning streaks of seven, six and seven games in those seasons. Ross and the Terrapins hope to end the trend of second-game losses this week, and for that to happen, it would seem the passing game will have to be more efficient. Kevin Walker, the sophomore who was converted from fullback to inside linebacker, played so well Saturday he is challenging starter Richie Petitbon. "He really showed the speed and open-field abilities we thought that he had, to the point where we are listing him right with Petitbon on the depth chart," Ross said, adding that it is likely Petitbon will start against Boston College. Ross said Badanjek (bruised thigh) is questionable for Saturday; Badanjek says he will play . . . Tailback Tommy Neal was in for only two plays against Penn State. "We need Tommy back as quickly as we can get him," Ross said . . . Center John Perna (back) and right tackle John Sorna (broken foot) will be available for the game at Boston College, as will cornerback Chad Sydnor (tendinitis in legs). Maryland dropped from No. 7 to No. 17 in the Associated Press poll. Penn State went from 19th to 11th.