In a recent conversation, Steve Martin, who will broadcast today's Clemson-Maryland game for Jefferson Pilot Sports, asked Ralph Friedgen what happened to his offense after September.
"I guess you need to play somebody like Duke again," said Martin, who worked the Sept. 25 game against Duke, during which Maryland recorded 685 yards. The Terps have failed to tally 100 yards in either of the two losses since.
"You know, Steve, Duke's defense is pretty good," Friedgen said. "Nobody else has been able to do that against Duke. I don't know what has transpired, but hopefully we get it back soon."
Friedgen has raised the question nearly a half-dozen times this week: How'd they fall so fast? Maryland has registered two of the nation's worst single-game offensive efforts in back-to-back weeks.
The futility is not jaw-dropping solely because it occurred under Friedgen, long deemed an offensive guru. It would have been shocking, according to those close to the program, had it occurred at any program in the nation.
Maryland must correct a series of problems to be productive in Death Valley today against Clemson (2-4, 1-3 ACC), which also is desperate to keep slim bowl hopes alive. In short, Maryland has execution and confidence issues.
Throughout the week, though, Maryland coaches pinpointed four specific areas that need improvement -- quarterback play, offensive line consistency, playmakers and overall chemistry.
The most glaring sore spot might be the offensive line, which has not been able to pass-protect or run block effectively the past two weeks. Most troublesome, just as center Kyle Schmitt appears healthy after suffering a concussion weeks ago, the Terps (3-3, 1-2) could be without their two starting tackles, Stephon Heyer (knee) and Lou Lombardo (arm). Friedgen declined to address their status Thursday.
Success might begin with sound line play, which could open up holes for backs Josh Allen and Sam Maldonado, both of whom have been quiet the past two weeks. Their success, in turn, could open up the passing game for starting quarterback Joel Statham.
Statham has not thrown an interception since the Duke victory, but the sophomore has done little else. Friedgen this week questioned whether the offense had become too simplistic and predictable for defenses.
"I'd almost rather have the turnovers back," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. "We made such a big issue of taking care of the football that maybe we're a little too cautious. The turnovers have gone down, but so has the production."
Friedgen said freshman backup Jordan Steffy also may play, as he did the past two weeks in relief of a struggling Statham in the third quarter. Steffy, who had a sore arm earlier this season, sat out Thursday's practice, but Friedgen said he practiced well this week, particularly on Monday. Statham, Friedgen noted, looked more comfortable.
The onus is not just on the quarterbacks. Coaches acknowledged they need playmakers to emerge. Tight end Vernon Davis caught four passes for 101 yards and three touchdowns against Duke. Since then, the sophomore has three catches for 34 yards.
To illustrate the absence of playmakers, Lombardo had more receptions (one) than senior wide receiver Steve Suter last week. In a meeting, Taaffe asked players: "What's your mind-set right now? Are you a guy who is saying, 'I want the ball'? Or are you saying, 'Oh, I hope he does not call my number right now'?"
The other concern Friedgen has cited involves "reaching" players, as he called it. Players and coaches have taken several steps to ensure that everyone has a singular focus. Friedgen has met with his most experienced players to determine whether they have been dealing with distractions. Players held a 90-minute players-only meeting Monday to air frustrations. And Friedgen had players elect three permanent team captains to provide leadership and exemplify traits Friedgen endorses.
"A lot of it has to do with human dynamics," defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said. "Sometimes the players are listening, but they are not hearing. Sometimes maybe we're listening and not hearing in terms of the body language and feedback the players are giving us."
Three games ago, Maryland threw for 408 yards against Duke, racking up 55 points despite three interceptions. No other team has thrown for even 300 yards against Duke. Two teams ahead of Maryland in the ACC standings, Virginia Tech (172 passing yards) and Georgia Tech (147), failed to record comparable offensive numbers against the Blue Devils.
"With the depth Maryland has," Duke Coach Ted Roof said this week, "they have a little more depth than we have right now, and we got worn down."
Regardless of whether it can return to Sept. 25 form, Maryland is guaranteed its worst record under Friedgen. The best the Terps can finish is 9-3, which, at this point, appears unlikely given the difficulty of the schedule. Then again, Maryland's offensive ineptitude the past two weeks was equally unexpected after the pyrotechnics in Durham, N.C.
"I'll hang with these kids," Friedgen said, "and just hope that they continue to hang with me."