Terps face major test in Miami

COLLEGE PARK — — In recent weeks, Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien has feasted on the short passing game.

Using quick tosses and receiver screens, the redshirt freshman has helped the Terps (6-2, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) to four victories in the past five outings. He has seven touchdown passes in his last two games without an interception, prompting his coaches to marvel at his poise and command.

But a special challenge awaits Saturday — a game against Miami (5-3, 3-2 ACC) in which O'Brien and the Terps will attempt to stretch the boundaries of their turnaround season by winning for the first time on the road against a team with a winning record.

"I feel like a lot of people will judge how good we are based on this game," said senior receiver LaQuan Williams (Poly). "This is our respect game."

Miami's defense ranks first in the ACC against the pass. The aggressive Hurricanes are adept at taking away the short completions that the Terps have come to rely on. Maryland has been using short passes as other teams use runs — to sustain drives and set up longer throws.

"They take away all the 'gimme' throws," O'Brien said. "They're going to be in our face on the line of scrimmage."

Maryland has six touchdowns this season of 50 yards or more. The Terps may need to mix in some deep throws against Miami to spread out the defense.

"I think we'll have to take some shots on them," O'Brien said. "We're going to have to. We're going to have to loosen them up a little bit."

Maryland's principal deep playmaker, Torrey Smith, ranks sixth in the ACC with 19 catches for 205 yards.

Smith has 13 catches in the past two games and caught a 17-yard touchdown pass last week in Maryland's 62-14 win over Wake Forest that made the Terps bowl-eligible.

But Smith hasn't quite seemed himself since injuring an ankle a month ago. He is repeatedly asked by the media about the ankle and always has the same reply — he is fine. But Smith is averaging 10.8 yards per catch compared with a career average of 13.6 entering the season. His kickoff-return average has dropped from 25.8 his first two years to 18.7 this season.

"He's able to run straight ahead pretty good — it's cutting that's been limited," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "That's affected him some at receiver also. But I think he's close to being a hundred percent right now."

The Terps snapped a 10-game road losing streak at Boston College two weeks ago. One week earlier, Maryland's offensive line struggled on the road with a team — Clemson — that coaches compare to Miami defensively. The Tigers beat the Terps, 31-7.

The Hurricanes are "probably similar to Clemson in terms of a big, strong, fast front-seven. You're not going to get what I call free-access catches," Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said.

The Hurricanes have allowed an average of 152.5 passing yards per game, tops in the ACC and seventh in the nation. Miami's 15 interceptions also lead the conference.

The Hurricanes enter the game — their homecoming contest — after a 24-19 upset loss at Virginia. "A lot of people say the fans aren't going to be there, but it's homecoming and you're always going to have your 35 to 45,000 fans there," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "It will be loud enough. There will be a lot of crazy emotion going on."

Junior quarterback Jacory Harris, who is second in career touchdown passes at the school with 50, suffered a concussion last week. Shannon said Wednesday that there is "probably about a 75 percent chance that he will not be participating in this game." Freshman Stephen Morris would replace him.

Morris passed for 162 yards and two touchdowns against Virginia.

"You kind of saw him grow up," Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown said of Morris. "Hopefully we can mix our looks, give him some things to think about. In his situation, it's 'manage the game, don't turn the ball over.'"

Friedgen had said Tuesday that he still expected Harris to play. No matter who plays, "we're going to have to go down and play the best we've played all year to be in this game," Friedgen said.