Ralph Friedgen, whose Maryland team faces mounting scrutiny and a narrow margin for error, decided to stick with starting quarterback Joel Statham but said yesterday he also could play freshman Jordan Steffy against North Carolina State.

Friedgen, during a spirited news conference, defended his right to make the decision without the influence of outsiders and repeatedly offered a message to media and fans: "You've got to trust me."

The quarterback position has become more of a competition in practice, Friedgen said, after Steffy replaced Statham in the third quarter Saturday and led the Terps to their only scoring drive during the 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech.

As a result, Friedgen said he likely will play Steffy early in games if the situation dictates. Tight end Vernon Davis said he expects both quarterbacks to play Saturday against the nation's top-ranked pass defense.

At 3-2, Maryland is at a crossroads not just with its season -- the Terps need to win three of their remaining six games to become bowl eligible -- but also at the game's most important position.

"I have confidence in both kids," Friedgen said. "If I make a change too early, I might lose a guy that I never get back. Conversely, I might put a guy in too early, lose his confidence and never get it back."

Friedgen also said, "We're not the Redskins," adding that he not only has to worry about winning but also about the psyches of college athletes barely into adulthood.

"The other bottom line is that I've got two kids who I care about," Friedgen said. "I know some of the things in their lives. This is about winning, of course, but it's also about them. I'm conscious of all the factors involved in making this decision."

Statham, 20, and Steffy, 19, have been made off-limits to the media this week. Offensive lineman Lou Lombardo said Friedgen addressed the team as a whole Monday, telling players that he would not disclose the starting quarterback even to them until Saturday and that they should expect questions from reporters about the quarterback situation throughout the week.

"I'm selfish, as you all know. I'm hoping to come out with two good quarterbacks," Friedgen said. "I think that's still a very big possibility that I would have for a couple years. Maybe I'll start growing hair and get skinny, who knows? Those things [with the quarterbacks] could happen if I handle the situation right. If I don't listen to all my voicemail, read the papers, listen to all those things. You can have an opinion, like everybody can. Guess what? It doesn't matter. I'm going to make that decision."

Friedgen met with Statham on Monday and reiterated the importance of being a mentally tough quarterback. "You have to believe in yourself, sometimes when many people don't," Friedgen told the sophomore, who has thrown as many touchdown passes (seven) as interceptions.

Davis is well aware of the outside criticism, saying that listening to it "makes us want to come out and dominate everyone." The sophomore added: "There's a lot of negativity around here. There are a lot of people doubting us, saying we're not good. We're real good. We've got a lot of potential around here, especially with Joel and Steffy."

Friedgen showed the team the tape of the Georgia Tech game, which underscored that the struggles of the offense were not solely based on quarterback play. The 81 yards allowed by the Yellow Jackets' defense was the best performance in the nation this season and the best in any ACC game since 1997.

Six sacks occurred because of Maryland offensive line breakdowns, Friedgen said. Another two took place, he said, because receivers didn't break on routes when they should have.

Lombardo said the linemen knew what blitzes were coming and often when they were coming. But failing to stop Georgia Tech's penetration was particularly frustrating because, "I'm one of the guys who broke down and couldn't handle it," he said, adding "It really hit home. Average play is not going to get it done."

Friedgen said some of the more experienced players have not been playing up to expectations. Friedgen, who did not pinpoint players, met with some early this week to see if they were facing any personal distractions.

While the on-field problems might be widespread, the focus remains on the quarterbacks. And Friedgen is confident the adversity will subside, eventually. "This is what I do," Friedgen said. "You've got to trust in my experience of 36 years that I know what I'm doing."

Terrapin Notes: Maryland is in the process of filing paperwork for tight end Rob Abiamiri and safety Chris Kelley, both of whom are petitioning the NCAA for sixth years of eligibility. "For all the frustration that Chris went through [three knee surgeries], it should be justified that Chris gets it," Friedgen said. As for Abiamiri, who is on track to graduate in January, the issue is whether he wants to return. . . .

Kicker Nick Novak (stomach virus), left guard C.J. brooks (pinched nerve) and right guard Russell Bonham (hamstring) are probable. Right tackle Brandon Nixon (shoulder) and center Kyle Schmitt (concussion) are day-to-day . . . Punter Adam Podlesh was named ACC special teams player of the week . . . Maryland's game at Clemson on Oct. 23 will kick off at noon.

Ga. Tech records one of four sacks against Joel Statham; the Yellow Jackets had eight sacks on the day. Quarterback Jordan Steffy is out of room against Georgia Tech; the backup went 5 for 9 (36 yards).