COLLEGE PARK -- What is ailing Maryland's offense?
The Terps intended to beef up their ground game to control the ball more and alleviate some of the pressure on what was the nation's most porous defense. But they barely have improved on last year's rushing totals, and the passing game that ranked in the top three in the nation the two previous seasons has surpassed 300 yards once in six games.
Terps offensive coordinator Dan Dorazio said the offense in general and the passing game in particular have suffered because so much practice time in the spring and preseason was spent experimenting with new looks, some of which have been seldom seen.
"Offensive football comes down to execution, and we've struggled because we did a lot of experimenting back in the spring with different sets," Dorazio said. "It all goes back to what you spend your preparation time on, and we've been a victim of that. Whenever you try to do too much, you get poor performance. We got away from what was pretty good to us."
The run-and-shoot offense, usually with four wide receivers, a single back and an emphasis on the pass, made the team's losing go down a little easier during Mark Duffner's first two years as head coach.
The Terps, who begin a three-game homestand at Byrd Stadium tomorrow (7 p.m.) against Georgia Tech, were one-dimensional, however.
Last year, they were No. 3 of 106 Division I-A teams in passing yardage, but No. 102 in rushing. When the passing game struggled and the offense went 1-2-3-punt, the defense's shortcomings were further exposed.
The Terps focused on better balance. They installed a short-yardage offense that featured the third-team quarterback, reintroduced the tight end and tinkered with a two-back offense.
"We tried every possible formation there is in football," inside wide receiver Russ Weaver said. "We installed a tight end, two backs, three backs, two tight ends. Looking back, we didn't get the quality work with the four wide-outs. Every year, you need to improve, and we didn't do much in the spring to improve on what we did last year."
The project has hardly been a total failure. Even though the Terps feel they would be .500 if the offense had shown up at Clemson on Oct. 1, they are 2-4; they were 0-6 at this point last year.
The ground game played a considerable role in the victories, and Saturday's 41-17 loss at North Carolina would have been worse if hadn't picked up.
The Terps didn't use a different look, just different plays -- shovel passes and other short routes in addition to 27 carries by backs -- to control the ball and gain more yards rushing than passing for the first time in the Duffner regime.
There are other, more visible reasons that Maryland, limited to 400 yards or less four times the last two years, has reached that level just once this season.
Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis has been sidelined by a separated shoulder. The line has had to integrate two new starters, one after the second game. Defensive coordinators are more determined to deny the run-and-shoot the big play the third time around. The Terps are getting fewer plays by using nearly all of the 25-second play clock.
Perhaps most crucial of all, the soap opera at quarterback -- Scott Milanovich or Kevin Foley? -- affected continuity.
Milanovich, who will get his second straight start tomorrow, knows that some of his school-record 3,499 yards passing and 26 touchdowns set in 1993 were courtesy of prevent defenses. He anticipated that his numbers were going to drop, but not this badly.
"I don't know if I would call it a rut or what," Milanovich said, "but until we throw for 400 yards, the media and the people around here won't think were out of it."
NOTES: Reserve wide receiver Walt Williams, a red-shirt sophomore with 11 catches, will miss the rest of the season after wrist surgery last night to correct a displaced bone that resulted from a ligament he tore in practice last week. . . . Tomorrow's game isn't close to being a sellout. Telephone (800) 462-8377 for ticket information.