By the time Joel Statham walked into the Gossett Team House cafeteria around 8 p.m. last night, the delirious crowd had dispersed from the Byrd Stadium field. But Statham, wearing Maryland's "I believe" T-shirt, was still basking in the aftermath of the program's most significant victory of Coach Ralph Friedgen's four-year tenure.
Maryland's 20-17 win over No. 5 Florida State was vindication for Statham, the sophomore quarterback whose erratic efforts this season attracted sharp criticism and boos from his home fans. Yesterday, Statham threw for 333 yards against one of the nation's most vaunted defenses. No quarterback had thrown for as many yards against the Seminoles since Philip Rivers passed for 422 in North Carolina State's double-overtime victory last season.
Consider Maryland's quarterback controversy over.
"I think this was real big for me, real big for the team, too," the usually understated Statham said.
Statham's numbers, 21 completions in 40 attempts for one touchdown with one interception, was also vindication for Friedgen. Throughout most of the season, Friedgen publicly endorsed Statham, emphasizing patience and believing he one day would develop into the leader who could knock off a team such as Florida State.
Friedgen told media and fans to "trust me" and knocked those on Internet message boards who demanded freshman Jordan Steffy start instead. Even in last week's 10-7 loss to Clemson, Friedgen said Statham played with "rhythm and confidence," two traits that he exhibited throughout practice this week.
"I saw him getting better," Friedgen said. "You ought to know I don't lie to you guys."
Maryland's staff simplified the game plan for Florida State and planned to use option pitches as much as possible. Friedgen said Statham only had one misread yesterday and displayed exceptional accuracy, often hooking up with receivers in stride.
It didn't help that Statham had less than a complete complement of receivers with which to work. Derrick Fenner (ankle) was limited and did not make a catch. Steve Suter injured his hamstring in the first half and did not play in the second half.
The most popular target became tight end Vernon Davis, who was one of the receivers who dropped a ball the previous week against Clemson. Yesterday, Davis made six catches for 99 yards, the longest being a 33-yard reception that brought the ball to the Florida State 2 and set up Maryland's first touchdown.
"This is the best game of his life," Davis said of Statham. "He had so much confidence in himself. We just kept telling him in practice, 'You're the best. You're going to be the best.' And he listens to us."