Lack of downfield plays 'frustrating'

Leading up to last week's game against West Virginia, Maryland wide receiver Isaiah Williams felt the offense was ready to open up in a big way. Between the deep pass plays installed in the game plan and West Virginia's tendency to stack the box, Maryland's offensive scheme looked to involve a healthy dose of downfield shots.

"[West Virginia]'s going to pack guys in the box and you're going to have to beat them through the air. I mean we knew that going into the game—we knew that going into the summer—we had to beat them through the air," Williams said.

It didn't happen. Even into the third quarter when West Virginia began to pull away Maryland continued to run the ball. Passes that were thrown were short, and it wasn't until the final scoring drive late in the fourth quarter did Maryland complete its second pass for over 11 yards.

The way Thursday night's game unfolded—and to an extent the way the two before it did too—has left the receivers wondering when coach Ralph Friedgen will take those shots downfield.

"That seems to be like the feel for the team right now," Williams said when asked if it was frustrating. "Everyone comes up and everyone's like ‘Why aren't we going deep? Why are we not doing this, why are we not doing that?' To an extent it's frustrating for me too. I think we should do a lot more and I think a lot of people think we should do it a lot more. I think we have the talent to do it."

Talent like Darrius Heyward-Bey, who in 2006 asserted himself as one of the nation's preeminent rising playmakers. Through three games this season he has 13 catches for 185 yards—not bad numbers, but short of expectations. His longest was a 33-yard catch and run on Maryland's second drive against West Virginia, a game in which he was thrown to just four times.

He isn't being double-teamed often, he said, nor has he felt he's been the focus of the opposing defense. "So far they're approaching me like I'm anybody else," he said. Why, then, is Heyward-Bey not getting more opportunities? And, for that matter, the rest of the receiving core?

Part of it lies in execution, Heyward-Bey and Friedgen said. If routes aren't run precise—meaning down to the exact yard—then quarterback Jordan Steffy will look elsewhere.

"That's what a lot of freshmen say when they come in: ‘What does one yard do?' It throws off the timing of the quarterback and the receivers," Heyward-Bey said. "We got to be there. It's a simple as that."

"We've got to start doing the little things better," Friedgen said.

The overarching reason for the conservative look, though, lies in the play calling. Friedgen said after the West Virginia game that he apologized to the team for some of his calls. "I have to do a better job as a coach," he said Thursday night.

In his two media sessions on Sunday and Tuesday afternoon, Friedgen admitted the need for more big plays. Tight end Dan Gronkowski said Tuesday he thinks the offense would benefit from a more aggressive game plan.

"I think coach Friedgen can open it up more, let guys make some plays," he said.

The question as to why that hasn't happened yet remains.

"I have no clue," Heyward-Bey said. "It could be pressure that [Jordan]'s getting from blitzes and stuff like that. I wouldn't be the person to really tell you what's really going on."

"I thought it could go one of two ways [at the beginning of the season]," Williams said. "I thought we could have opened it up and just killed two teams out of the gate or we could have beaten teams and not shown our offense. That's the road we kind of went last year and when we opened it up we were beating a lot of teams—a lot of really good teams."

Williams said that he doesn't know how the game will be called beforehand, so some of what they practice during the week doesn't necessarily foreshadow what will happen in the game. He added that Friedgen hasn't explicitly told the team this week that they will take more shots downfield Saturday against Wake Forest.

It's something, though, that the team feels its been ready for.

"From a player's standpoint, we would really love for us to open the offense up, get the ball going a little bit," Williams said. "But obviously Ralph makes the calls so we're all going to follow what he has to say."

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