Maryland 55, Duke 21
The game had the ambience of a spring game, one Maryland player said, and was played in a stadium only sprinkled with fans. Yet it was here Saturday where Maryland quarterback Joel Statham, by all accounts, played the best game of his college career.
Statham again overcame early struggles to lead the Terps to a dominating 55-21 victory against winless Duke, which statistically has been one of the nation's worst teams through four games this season.
Calling some of Statham's throws "remarkable," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen praised his quarterback's reads, touch and ability to use an assortment of receivers, most notably tight end Vernon Davis, who became the fourth Maryland receiver ever to score three touchdowns in a game.
Statham fumbled the ball three times, all of which were recovered by Maryland, and threw three interceptions. But he also threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 362 yards, the second-most by a quarterback under Friedgen.
Statham's performance came when it was most needed, as Maryland has a bye week before entering the meat of its schedule. And it came after a week in which Friedgen supported Statham amid outside criticism and barred him from speaking to the media to limit distraction.
"I think I got a little bit better," said Statham, who completed 22 of 37 passes and spoke publicly for the first time since last week's overtime loss at West Virginia. "Today I learned a little bit more by the mistakes that I made, and hopefully in a couple weeks I'll be able to take those mistakes out of my game."
On Saturday, after the 23rd-ranked Terps improved to 3-1 with their first Atlantic Coast Conference victory, Friedgen and players endorsed Statham without hesitation.
"He's our quarterback," said center Kyle Schmitt, who compared Statham to a young Scott McBrien, Maryland's quarterback the past two seasons. "And he's going to be the guy. So I don't want him looking over his shoulder. I don't want him listening to anyone else."
Aside from the three interceptions, Maryland dominated the game in all facets. The Terps tied a school record with 35 first downs. They compiled 685 total yards on 100 offensive plays. And they controlled the ball for more than two-thirds of the game, which was played before an announced crowd of 16,298 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"I was hurting a little bit" by the end, Schmitt said, "but I think they were hurting a little more. We can wear teams down up front."
Yet Maryland led only 27-21 at halftime despite dominating the Blue Devils, who had only two first-quarter yards. Duke had amassed only 67 yards with 8 minutes 46 seconds remaining in the second quarter when Statham threw a pass too high in the direction of wide receiver Derrick Fenner. Cornerback John Talley's 85-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Blue Devils a 21-17 lead. Friedgen said he was concerned, especially after Maryland had squandered an earlier opportunity to score.
On third and goal from the Duke 5 in the first quarter, safety C.J. Woodard intercepted Statham's pass in the end zone, an errant throw Statham later called a "stupid mistake."
Statham, however, made several good reads and connected with the Davis for touchdown receptions of 29, 12 and 40 yards. Davis dropped what would have been another touchdown pass in the end zone.
Davis called his performance -- four catches for 101 yards -- a statement game. Friedgen credited Davis's "evade-ability," which the sophomore displayed on his final touchdown reception, when he eluded five tacklers en route to the end zone.
"I kind of knew that I could do some great things if I got the ball in the open area," said Davis, whose mistakes against West Virginia limited his effectiveness. "They missed the tackles. That was their loss."
All in all, the Terps were pleased, and again they pledged to cut down turnovers. Through four games, Statham has eight fumbles and seven interceptions.
"We can't beat Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Florida State like that," Schmitt said. "We can get by Duke and Temple and Northern Illinois with turnovers here and there because I think we have more talent right now."