Maryland's Turner at the heart of Terps' performance swings

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Following Maryland's baffling loss to unheralded Middle Tennessee last month, coach Ralph Friedgen called quarterback Chris Turner into his office to remind him of something.

"He kind of told me that when I play well, we play well, and when I play bad, the rest of the team plays bad," Turner said. "I've kind of tried to take that to heart and ever since then I've had a pretty consistent season so far. I've put four or five pretty good games together."

He has, and it's no coincidence Maryland has won four of its past five and enters Saturday's game against NC State in a four-way tie for first place in the Atlantic Division.

There are obviously more factors in Maryland's bizarre up and down season than just one player, but Turner's performances have been at the heart of the Terps' inconsistent results since he took over for an injured Jordan Steffy against then-No. 10 Rutgers in 2007. As ESPN Research pointed out, Turner's numbers against ranked opponents in comparison to non-ranked teams is stunning:

  • Turner is now 5-0 against ranked teams, dating to last season, and has thrown for 1,135 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions against ranked opponents. He has completed 68.6 percent of his passes against ranked teams.

  • In the other 13 games he has played in his career, Turner has completed 59.2 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

"I'm well-aware of what's at stake on Saturdays," said Turner, who threw for a season-high 321 yards and a career-best 68 percent against Wake Forest, which entered the game with the No. 1 pass efficiency defense in the country. "I do realize the way I play affects offense and defense. It affects the whole program. It's always in the back of my mind and I try to do the right things during the week to prepare so when I come out on Saturday I don't have any doubts in my mind about what I have to do."

That attitude is one of the major differences between the 2007 Turner and the 2008 version. He had earned a reputation as a gamer, so much so that Steffy was awarded the starting job heading into this season because he had been the better player in practice. But Turner said because of first-year offensive coordinator James Franklin, he has become a more serious student in practice during the week.

"I think I'm much more prepared than I ever was," Turner said.

Franklin agreed.

"He's been practicing very well and much more consistent," he said. "That was a problem when I got here. It's not really the case now. He's practicing well, I've seen more leadership develop from him. That's been a major factor in our success."

Still, it seems like until they string together two straight performances of playing to their potential regardless of who the opponent is, the Terps will remain one of the most unpredictable teams in an already unpredictable league.

Even the players on NC State's roster are baffled by Maryland.

"Wake Forest, they shut them out, and two weeks earlier they get shutout by Virginia," defensive tackle Keith Willis Jr. said. "It's kind of up and down. It's going to take a lot of film to actually see what their team is all about."

He can start by looking at their quarterback.