Maryland Coach Joe Krivak entered what likely is be a make-or-break season for him with a suspect offense. Perhaps that all has changed after the smashing debut of the one-back formation Saturday in the Terrapins' season-opening victory over Virginia Tech.

Maryland entered woefully thin offensively, with a quarterback (Scott Zolak), tailback (Troy Jackson), H-back (Frank Wycheck) and seven other players starting their first games. But the Terrapins gained 371 yards.

Perhaps even more surprising was the manner in which it was accomplished, with Zolak and Wycheck setting school single-game records for completions (28) and receptions (14), and seven other players making at least one catch. The running game contributed 96 yards and the coaches said the offensive line graded much higher than expected.

"Coaches are a funny lot," said running backs coach Tony Whittlesey. "You make up a game plan working on everything, but expect to keep coming back to one or two things. But we never really did that -- we were able to go to a lot of different things."

Krivak's conservative side cautions that it was just one game -- and one game does not a season make -- but when he looks at the offensive output and the potential for expansion . . .

"It's got a lot of things to it. You can allow your imagination to run wild," Krivak said. "The thing you have to be careful about is that you can try and do too much with it. The potential is unlimited but you still have to execute. . . . We're not home free yet."

Maryland committed turnovers on its first three possessions of the fourth quarter, and it remains to be seen how the Terrapins will react when forced to perform against a squad that knows what to expect -- which will be the case Saturday against West Virginia in Morgantown.

However, Terrapins coaches would have you believe that even knowing what formation their team will line up in doesn't equal stopping it. They argue that focusing on one area means yielding in another, citing the Virginia Tech game, in which Wycheck caught 11 passes in the first half. That opened up the field for others, including tight end Bret Boehly (three catches, 54 yards) and Gene Thomas, whose 51-yard catch and run won the game in the final minute.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Barry Johnson, who had 43 catches last year, didn't make one, a situation the coaches say probably won't happen again.

"I'm sure that Virginia Tech looked at films of our games last year, saw Barry and said they had to stop him," said tight ends coach Paul Tortorella. "Now, West Virginia is probably looking at Frank, but Barry may come out and have the big day.

"At this level of play, with things like injuries, you need some diversity on offense and that's what this offense has. . . . The receivers obviously like it, linemen like it because they don't have to hold their blocks forever, and the quarterbacks like it because it's not one of those things where the receivers come around and say, 'You're not throwing the ball to me.' It's whoever's open is going to get it."

For Maryland, the basic offensive set -- one running back, two wide receivers, a tight end and H-back, with the quarterback throwing from relatively short five-step drops -- was born of necessity during a series of offseason meetings.

The Terrapins lost their four leading rushers from last season; the fifth, Jackson, carried 22 times in 1989. Also, the lack of experience and cohesion on the line made dominating run blocking and lengthy pass protection problematic.

However, with a strong-armed thrower and an abundance of speedy, sure-handed receivers, it made more sense to put the ball in the air.

But the question was how.

"We had messed around enough with {this offensive scheme} the last two or three years that we had some sense of it and it looked like the best way to help our offense," Krivak said. "But the thing was, we wanted to do it the right way, not piecemeal, trying it half of the time and something else the other half."

Krivak hired former Cincinnati Bengals assistant Jerry Eisaman as quarterbacks coach, and some Bengals coaches and quarterback Boomer Esiason came to College Park and allowed Krivak and company to pick their brains.

With one of the better practitioners of the one-back set -- the Washington Redskins -- virtually around the corner, the Maryland coaches had another source of information. So they began installing the formation during spring practice. And when at one point the team was down to two healthy backs, the commitment was almost made for them.

"It seemed to fit nicely with other things that we did," said Krivak. "And then working against our defense we were able to do certain things to them in the practices -- they had trouble with the motion and things like that.

"It really does have potential and we're going to live or die with it."