The most important rushing play of Sam Hollenbach's collegiate career came early in the second quarter against Clemson, when the Maryland quarterback surged one yard into a mass of bodies and across the goal line to give the Terps their first lead of the game. When Hollenbach later watched that play on tape, he realized what much of the crowd had seen in live action: His trip into the end zone was largely powered by fullback Ricardo Dickerson's enthusiastic shove from behind.
"I thought that was me," Hollenbach said with a smile, "but give Ricardo credit for that one."
And if you're looking for Hollenbach's rushing highlights through three games as Maryland's starter -- including last year's season finale against Wake Forest -- that's pretty much it. The quarterback went seven yards on a third and long against Wake Forest. He scrambled for 13 yards on a designed pass play in this year's season opener against Navy. The one-yard touchdown plunge last weekend and a similar one-yard shuffle on fourth and one were his longest runs against Clemson. In his three starts, Hollenbach's 18 credited carries have lost 42 yards, a result of his tendency to take sacks (eight in the three games) and his hesitancy to take off running.
Hollenbach has generally exceeded expectations while rejuvenating the Terps' passing game this month, and yet his rushing numbers are by far the worst of any Maryland quarterback in the Ralph Friedgen era. Former starters Shaun Hill and Scott McBrien ranked no worse than fourth on the team in rushing during Maryland's three-year streak of bowl appearances; Hollenbach is currently fifth, only because a sixth ball carrier has not yet been found.
Friedgen has urged his quarterback to change that pattern tomorrow against West Virginia, telling the junior that if routes are covered or protection breaks down, he needs to improvise.
"What I'm talking about is his ability to create a good play out of a bad play, and he has to understand he doesn't only have to do it with his arm, he can do it with his feet," Friedgen said. "We need another threat."
Hollenbach might have the look of a stationary passer -- he's 6 foot 5 and 218 pounds, and is even described as "a pocket-type quarterback" in the Maryland media guide -- but coaches said his 4.7 speed in the 40-yard dash is more than sufficient to keep defenders honest. Friedgen said several times this preseason that Hollenbach was quicker than he had imagined, and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said Hollenbach's physical attributes are comparable to those of Hill, who averaged 28 rushing yards a game in 2001.
"Sam runs better than maybe you would think or people give him credit for," Taaffe said. "When he gets going straight ahead, he's got pretty good speed."
So why, then, did he throw an interception into coverage on Maryland's first possession of the second half last Saturday instead of scrambling? What went wrong on a designed running play earlier in the game, when Hollenbach was hit and fumbled at the Clemson 11-yard line?
A lack of game action might be partly to blame. Even "live" plays in preseason practice were run with Hollenbach wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, "so he's got that safety net where he just sits there until either the pass comes open or we blow it dead," Taaffe said.
He also wasn't asked to run much in high school; in two years as a starter he had nearly half as many touchdown passes (26) as carries (57). The option running game, always a staple in Friedgen's offense, has not yet given Hollenbach many scripted openings, with defensive reads instead dictating he hand the ball to a running back. And Friedgen worries that Hollenbach doesn't trust his own running ability, saying "maybe I have more belief in that than Sam."
But Hollenbach said this week he would look to scramble more against the undefeated Mountaineers, whose 3-3-5 "stack" defense -- which sacrifices a larger player up front for a faster player in the middle of the defense -- is the top-rated unit in the country (128.5 yards per game). The quarterback said he needs to make pass-or-run decisions before his "internal clock" expires, and that if linebackers are dropping off in coverage, he'll be ready to head upfield, with or without a push in the back.
"If that's something that [Friedgen] thinks I can do, I feel comfortable with it," Hollenbach said. "I just need to be able to pull it and be decisive and make positive yardage."