Playing defensive back, Greg Williams explained yesterday, is similar to playing quarterback in at least one way.
"It's an embarrassing position," said Maryland's secondary coach and defensive coordinator. "Like quarterback, you get too much credit when something goes right and too much blame when it doesn't."
There have been a couple of weeks when the Terrapins were embarrassed. But Saturday was one of those days when they deserved to walk tall and smile from ear to ear. "Oh, positively," said Williams.
The Terrapins' defense was good as a whole Saturday in a 14-0 victory over previously unbeaten Wake Forest, and the secondary was excellent. Demon Deacons quarterback Mike Elkins completed 23 of 45 passes for 173 yards, but he had zero touchdowns and the Terrapins intercepted him four times.
"We didn't go down there expecting them to throw the ball 45 times," Williams said. "But they did and we held up pretty good for a change."
From day one this season, Maryland's secondary has been a source of concern, given the change in defense, the relative inexperience of its members and a lack of depth. The hope was that the group's athletic ability would be enough to pull it through while it learned to play as a unit.
Those concerns became fears on the second play of the season, when Syracuse burned the Terrapins on a halfback pass. The Orangemen later beat Maryland deep three other times. Syracuse didn't score on those long plays because the receivers either fell or were caught from behind. Since then, though, the long pass plays have been minimal.
"We've matured a lot from that first game," said strong safety J.B. Brown, who had two interceptions against Wake Forest. "There's no more stage shock."
Williams, a defensive back at North Carolina State in the late '60s, is a friendly sort, but on the practice field he is easily heard. He doesn't hesitate to point out his crew's shortcomings, though he does also slide in a compliment now and then.
"He's a Napoleon-type," cornerback Irvin Smith said. "A tyrant. But we have the utmost respect for him. He's been coaching from 20-some years and he really knows what he's talking about.
"You respect him, but you also hate him," Smith said with a smile. "He knows my pressure points. He knows how to get you to play better."
Said Williams: "I've always been like that. Some of the older guys say I'm getting easier. But they're all still subject to the same abuse. If I didn't, they'd probably think I didn't care."
The trick for Williams' defensive backs will be to play as well this week, when Duke visits College Park, as they did last week. The Blue Devils, coached by former quarterback Steve Spurrier, are one of those teams that uses the pass to set up the pass.
"When Wake spreads you out," said Williams, "they have a normal amount of patterns. When Duke spreads, they have an enormous amount of patterns."
The Blue Devils often use three wide receivers, which will mean more nickel coverage for Maryland.
"The key thing is not to try to guess what they will do," Smith said. "We have to play our coverages, play our keys. Settle when the quarterback settles and then break to the ball. Don't just guess that the guy is going to run a 12-yard pattern."
"We're six games into it," said Williams. "They ought to be getting used to it by now."
Smith said part of the reason for the secondary's success Saturday was that the front seven played better against the run.
"This game we didn't have to make as many tackles on run support," Smith said. "Our linebackers and interior people did the job. That helped preserve us because we didn't have to make as many tackles."
One play late in the fourth quarter exemplified that. Redshirt freshman Mike Hollis, who has started every game and been picked on in each, was beaten deep on a move by Wake Forest wide receiver Ricky Proehl. But Hollis turned, ran and caught Proehl just in time to knock the ball away and into the hands of free safety Chad Sydnor.
To Williams, the play was a gratifying one. Although he doesn't like seeing receivers run by his defensive backs, Hollis did the right things to recover, Williams said.
"He knew he was in trouble," Williams said. "But he didn't look for the ball. He just ran to the man, and when he got there, he didn't just run into him. When the guy put his hands out, Mike put his out. That's the maturity factor. It's especially nice for Mike because he's always getting picked on. It's nice to see a redshirt freshman with some spunk make the play, and of course, Chad was hustling to get over there.
"It makes it a lot easier for me when they see what you're telling them work. Once they see that, you've got them. Then they can go and conquer other things."
Tackle John Sorna, who did not play against Wake Forest because of a sore left foot, is still hobbled, but is hoping that inserts in his shoes will help alleviate the pain . . . Mark Agent, who started at left tackle in the opener, but was moved to center, played some at his old spot Saturday and worked there with the first unit yesterday. Second-week starter Ben Jefferson, who spent last week on the scout team after missing two weeks because of disciplinary reasons, worked with the second unit yesterday.