A glance at NCAA statistics shows how effective Maryland's offense has been. The Terrapins are eighth in the nation in passing offense at 303.6 yards per game, quarterback Scott Zolak is 12th in total offense (256.6 yards per game) and H-back Frank Wycheck is third in receptions per game at 8.2.

Unfortunately for Maryland, it also has a sky-high turnover figure -- 20 in five games -- which is why a such a potent team has averaged only slightly better than 16 points a game and why wide receiver Barry Johnson steps lightly whenever he's in the vicinity of the Terrapins' defensive players.

"I always ask those guys if they just want to kill us," he said. "We've been cutting off our own legs every week and it hurts even more knowing that the defense has been playing its buns off."

So far, none of the offensive players has suffered an untimely demise, although some hard stares may have been directed Zolak's way after last Saturday's 45-17 loss to Michigan, a game in which he threw three interceptions and fumbled away the ball twice.

In the heat of the moment, one of Maryland's defensive coaches said he "wanted to hang" Zolak for some of the problems the senior had in the game. Two of the interceptions came on bad passes -- he didn't lead a receiver sufficiently on one and threw short on the other. The third came when it appeared he threw the ball up for grabs in the face of a blitz.

But that outcome, as on one of Zolak's fumbles -- when he lost the ball on a sack after getting a premature snap from center -- wasn't necessarily his fault. Which is why, upon reflection, the same coach rallied behind the quarterback.

"You know he's trying like hell and some things are out of his control," he said.

Indeed, an interception by Michigan safety Vada Murray that set up one of the Wolverines' second-quarter touchdowns looked identical to the 28-yard pass from Zolak to Gene Thomas that set up the game-winning field goal in Maryland's 13-12 victory over North Carolina State.

Coach Joe Krivak does not care to criticize his players publicly, but he said yesterday that, even if he did, Zolak probably would be mostly absolved for what's happened.

"We made some mistakes and some of them look like they're his," Krivak said. "He's got to handle that. But I've looked at films and he's got someone in his face or hanging on him on almost every play and that's not his fault."

Looking at the Maryland offense, with its "sight reads" and audibles, it's almost a wonder any play gets off successfully. It also makes it easier to understand why, as far as the turnovers are concerned, that Johnson said "the only consistency is that they've kept happening."

No matter what play is called in the huddle, it is subject to change when the offense goes up to the line of scrimmage. Even after the ball is snapped on a pass play, what the receiver does can change depending on the movement of the defense.

"We make sight adjustments {to pass patterns} off any blitz," said Zolak. "But I have to see that along with the three receivers. If I see it and they don't, then the play is botched, and vice versa.

"Lots of teams are doing a good job of disguising what they're really going to do. That can be confusing, but you still only have so much time to make the play."

Even if quarterback and receiver pick up the same thing, there's no guarantee the pass will be thrown, let alone completed, if the offensive line hasn't made the correct blocking call.

Because of the different defensive schemes used by opponents, Maryland's linemen don't get their blocking call until they reach the line of scrimmage, with the call then going from the center out to the guards and tackles.

Guards and tackles also have their own keys to follow, which can mean even more change.

"If someone doesn't get the call or if the call we've made is the wrong blocking scheme, then someone will always come free to the quarterback," said offensive tackle Clarence Jones.

"Our problem isn't so much sacks, though. There have been too many times when {Zolak} is throwing with someone right in his face or he's getting hit just as he's throwing the ball."

As the numbers attest, Maryland has done enough things right that Zolak feels comfortable in his role. He said his No. 1 goal in Saturday's game against Georgia Tech is to not have any interceptions or fumbles.

"I've been trying to make stuff happen and I'm going to keep on doing that; the receivers too," he said. "We've been successful. We've been getting close to the same amount of yardage every week. If we just make a couple more big plays, then everything's different."