Well, the punter is really good.

Adam Podlesh boomed this 70-yarder yesterday at Byrd Stadium, a rocket off the Maryland sophomore's right foot that kept sailing and then rolling, almost to the North Carolina State goal line. What a thing of beauty -- on one of the most unsightly days of Ralph Friedgen's 36-year career.

Podlesh punted a lot, 11 times in all, because Maryland's offense was malodorous. Actually, the entire program does not smell good today.

One first down after the first quarter. Two yards per play. One measly field goal on the day. The Terrapins were just terrible against the Wolfpack, losing confidence more than they lost this 13-3 game.

At this juncture, you might as well call them the home-for-the-holidays Terps, because any reasonable chance of returning to a bowl game for the fourth straight year was washed away with one of the most abysmal performances by a Division I football team this year.

Can we now shelve the quarterback quandary? After all, Joel Statham and Jordan Steffy, who replaced Statham, the starter, midway through the third quarter, are a lot alike. Polite after losses, they have the same initials. Both are also young, struggling underclassmen, neither of whom had much luck finding a seam against the nation's No. 1 pass defense.

After seven combined completions and 24 yards in 60 minutes, Maryland does not need a quarterback change. It needs a scheduling change, some Ball States or Austin Peays, someone needing a $100,000 guarantee, who will lie down to build a new weight room.

Clemson, Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech are the Terrapins' next four games. That looks like a 1-3 run from here, and that's giving Maryland a win over Clemson at Death Valley next week. You need six wins to qualify for a bowl invitation, and today the Terps are 3-3.

Are the program's backers prepared for a five-win season after three straight 10-win years under Friedgen?

Way back in the spring, Friedgen warned everyone his team was young and unproven. He apparently wasn't doing the annual Holtzian woe-is-us routine; the Fridge meant it.

Slouching over the postgame podium yesterday, he looked as morose as a man whose favorite restaurant had gone out of business while he was away. The guy looked so sad, you didn't want to give Friedgen a hug; you wanted to give him his dog, house and life back.

"I don't think I've ever had two games like that back to back," he said. He called it "very embarrassing for me not to play better offensively" and had little clue how to ready his team for the rest of its brutal schedule. "I don't know. You got any ideas?"

Some new era. Friedgen lost his first game at home in three seasons last week against Georgia Tech while Maryland lost at home consecutively for first time since 1998.

By the time less than four minutes were left in the third quarter and Maryland was not moving the chains, Friedgen was so desperate for momentum he went for it on fourth and one from his 34-yard line. The run was stuffed, the ball changed hands and another team that had not beaten the Terps since Friedgen took over in 2001 got some payback -- just like West Virginia a few weeks ago.

Maybe this is what college football is today, a nation of non-perennially good teams. Maybe when you're good for three years in a row, you should savor it and recruit well for next year. Who ever dreamed Nebraska could get clubbed by Texas Tech, 70-10, last week? No one imagined Ohio State would lose three games in a row. Miami edged Louisville in an heirloom the other night. But who among casual fans even knew the Cardinals had a bona fide football program until that game?

Recruits don't care who Joe Paterno is; they want to know if Joe-Pa will play them as freshmen. And if not, they go somewhere else -- irrespective of how many bowls wins and national titles Penn State or Notre Dame or Michigan has accrued. Statham was recruited by Georgia, but he knew he could play for the Terps, so he came to play for Friedgen, where he wound up in the middle of a quarterback controversy in the middle of his sophomore season.

When Friedgen was asked what his next move at quarterback will be, he said: "That's all I got. What do you want? You want me to manufacture one? I don't have one. I have two kids that are growing."

Amid growing criticism over the quarterback dilemma last week, Friedgen kept saying, "You've got to trust me," adding he had been doing this for 36 years, that Maryland is not Washington's pro football team. The logic was that he has to worry about fragile psyches of young men, not just make a routine quarterback switch. He doesn't want to lose a kid forever.

Ryan Mitch, the third-string quarterback, almost quit the team in August after being demoted to fourth on the depth chart. Friedgen had a sit-down with his more-than-outspoken mother. Result: Mitch moved up a spot on the depth chart after the meeting. He went back to class and practice, and all was well again. Patrick Ramsey's mom just does not get equal treatment from Joe Gibbs.

You get up close and talk to some of these 19- and 20-year-olds and you wonder why anybody bets on college football. They're all unsure of themselves, trying to find their way. You realize Friedgen is right. When you get past the tattoos and the diamond-stud earrings and the faux poise, they are kids, really, more sensitive to scrutiny than any 30-something NFL veteran can remember.

Statham has been getting eviscerated in the school paper. The coverage has been incendiary. They want the kid publicly flogged at Comcast Center. Part of you chuckles when you see a line telling the sophomore from Chatsworth, Ga., to get back on that midnight train to Georgia. Another part of you wonders if there were a media critic in training on campus, how would he dissect that swell journalism? Oh well. Incendiary is what you get when Sean Salisbury and "Dream Job" pass for role models.

Anyhow, forget the quarterback quandary.

This is a confidence controversy. To win three more games and return to a bowl, Friedgen has to choose between little and none.

Jordan Steffy, right, and Joel Statham, whom he replaced, played like the struggling underclassmen they are. "I got two kids that are growing," Coach Ralph Friedgen said.