Running the ball, Maryland left guard Donnie Woods said, is "a toughness thing."

"You know, come off the ball and hit somebody," he explained.

Stopping the run, Maryland linebacker David Holloway said, is about earning respect.

"When they run right at you, to me that's disrespecting you," he said.

Three games into the season, Maryland's toughness has repeatedly been questioned, by both its coach and a few of its leaders. And entering Saturday's game at Wake Forest, the Terps are hurting for respect; they're 1-2, ranked near the bottom of the ACC in several major statistical categories and a Las Vegas underdog against one of the league's perpetual bottom-dwellers.

As Woods and Holloway noted, the source of such scourges is not particularly complicated. The Terps have failed to move the ball on the ground; their average of 105 yards per game is 88th in the country, the worst performance in Coach Ralph Friedgen's five years. And the Terps have been even less proficient at stopping the run; their average of 220 rushing yards allowed is 105th out of 117 Division I-A teams, behind such luminaries as Arkansas State, Idaho and Louisiana-Monroe. That, too, is by far the worst showing in Friedgen's tenure.

Under Friedgen, the Terps are 33-3 when they outgain their opponents on the ground and 4-13 when they don't, and the latter has now occurred in six straight games.

After Saturday's disheartening 31-19 loss to West Virginia -- during which the visiting Mountaineers outrushed Maryland 137 to seven in the fourth quarter alone -- the coach promised changes, and yesterday he delivered.

Derek Miller, a stop-gap starter at left tackle for the season's first three games, will yield to 6-foot-9, 330-pound freshman Jared Gaither, who has played a steadily increasing role the past two weeks.

That move allows Miller to go back to his natural position as a blocking tight end. It also means sophomore tackle Scott Burley, yet to play after offseason back surgery, will likely see his first action Saturday.

The running back competition appears to be reopened, with Friedgen saying coaches will evaluate the backs this week in practice. Starter Mario Merrills ran for 149 yards against Navy but since has gained just 56 yards on 24 carries.

Friedgen also pledged to shorten practices this week, "if I can contain myself, which is very difficult to do sometimes," he said.

Twice last week he extended practice sessions that were already heavy on contact -- one lasted nearly three hours -- and he said yesterday that he might have worn down his team. Plays that were run incorrectly in practice last week were immediately repeated; this week, such mistakes will instead be discussed in film sessions.

After watching his running game flounder, Friedgen wondered aloud Saturday whether more passing plays should have been called; quarterback Sam Hollenbach was solid for a third straight game, and tight end Vernon Davis has clearly emerged as the team's best offensive weapon.

Still, during a sometimes emotional news conference yesterday, Friedgen said his offense might use the pass to set up the run but that "if you're one-dimensional you make it very easy to defend," and his players agreed.

"The passing game is the best I've seen since I've been here, but we've got to run the ball if we want to win," Woods said. "We've got to draw a line in the sand: all right this is it, no more errors, no more breakdowns. It's time to run the ball."

The same thing, of course, will be said when Wake Forest has the ball. The Demon Deacons (1-2) are eighth in the country in rushing offense and are coming off a 407-yard performance against East Carolina.

Maryland's defensive line, meanwhile, has been without Rob Armstrong, who will miss the season because of a back injury, and top recruit Melvin Alaeze, who did not qualify academically. Its rushing defense continues to rank last in the ACC.

"There's no way to magically combat it," Holloway said. "We've just got to get better."

Terrapin Notes: Defensive back Isaiah Gardner, who was held out of the West Virginia game because of a leg injury, will return this week. . . . Kicker Obi Egekeze (quadriceps) will be out at least two more weeks, Friedgen said. Dan Ennis, who won the kicking job when Egekeze was hurt in the preseason, has hit all six of his field goal attempts. . . . Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has 49 tackles, tied for the most in the nation.