Hollenbach focused on limiting mistakes

Two games into the 2006 season, Maryland's Sam Hollenbach is one of only two ACC starting quarterbacks not to have thrown a touchdown pass.

But the Terrapins senior would rather talk about something else he hasn't done this season -- throw an interception.

"That was probably the No. 1 focus for me this offseason," Hollenbach said. "Just not making big mistakes."

Hollenbach made plenty of those last season, finishing second-worst in the ACC behind Florida State's Drew Weatherford with 15 interceptions. Many of those were costly and played a role in Maryland's second consecutive 5-6 finish.

Fast-forward to 2006, and Hollenbach is protecting the football like a precious heirloom. Although he has thrown only 30 passes in victories over William & Mary and Middle Tennessee, not one has ended up in an opponent's hands.

Steering clear of turnovers will be particularly important for Hollenbach and his teammates Thursday night (ESPN, 7:30 ET) when Maryland travels to Morgantown, W.Va., for a nonconference showdown with the fifth-ranked Mountaineers, who are a 16½-point favorite.

Hollenbach did not throw an interception against West Virginia last year, the only game in 10 starts in which he avoided getting picked off.

But he couldn't shake off the turnover bug. His fourth-quarter fumble sealed West Virginia's 31-19 victory in College Park.

Hollenbach's error-prone junior season overshadowed some notable accomplishments, including throwing for 2,539 yards. That ranks sixth all-time at Maryland.

The flurry of turnovers also had a negative effect on Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who opened the starting quarterback job for competition during spring practice.

"Obviously, it's tough when that kind of thing happens," said Hollenbach, a 6-foot-4, 214-pound native of Sellersville, Pa. "My No. 1 reaction was … I don't know if he has confidence in me or not. But when I thought about it, it's football and it's going to be competitive, especially at this level. The best guy should win the job."

The best guy turned out to be Hollenbach, who beat out sophomore Jordan Steffy.

Hollenbach has done nothing to lose his grip on the starting position through Maryland's first two games. With Friedgen, who is serving in the dual role of coach and offensive coordinator, keeping the ball primarily in the hands of tailbacks Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball, the Terrapins' passing game has taken a back seat.

"Our offensive line has played well, and we have some great running backs back there," said Hollenbach, who has completed 20 of 30 passes for 292 yards this season. "Anytime you can get the running game going, it just helps everything out. Right now, we'll just go with what works."

Said Friedgen of Hollenbach's early-season performance: "He's played very solid. He hasn't made many mistakes. He's managed the team very well. He's put us in good position. He's missed a couple of opportunities, but that happens. He's probably made more than he's missed. I'm pretty pleased with the way he's playing so far."

Hollenbach undoubtedly will be asked to do more Thursday against West Virginia, winner of nine consecutive games. The Mountaineers rank sixth nationally in scoring defense (6.5 ppg) and 25th in total defense (253.5 ypg).

Maryland has averaged an ACC-best 174 rushing yards in its first two games, allowing the Terps to play conservatively in victories against two overmatched opponents.

Playing it safe likely is not a formula for victory against West Virginia. Hollenbach said he's prepared to take a few calculated risks, even if it means chancing a mistake.

"My mind-set going into games is not to not commit turnovers," Hollenbach said. "I have to be able to go into a game not afraid to make mistakes but instead really to make plays. That's a mind-set that I have to have for this game because I think there's going to be times where I just need to be able to step up and make a play instead of being conservative."

A victory against West Virginia would be a big boost for Maryland's program, which has suffered through two losing seasons after going 10-2, 11-3 and 10-3 in Friedgen's first three seasons.

The Terrapins' last victory against a top-five opponent came in 2004 when they defeated No. 5 Florida State in College Park. But Maryland hasn't beaten a top-five opponent on the road since 1950, having gone 0-17 since.

"We've got to go up there and raise our game, no doubt," said Friedgen, who is in his sixth year at Maryland. "Right now, a lot of people don't think we can be in the same park because they'll compare the scores and everything else. We'll see.

"If we could win, it would do tremendous things for our confidence. This team is going to have to win a game like this to develop."

Jorge Milian covers the ACC for The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.