Starting is such sweet sorrow - Terps hurting before opener

August 28, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Usually, Division I football opening games are nothing more than a dress rehearsal.

Put on your new uniforms against a marginal opponent for a big win to start the season successfully and get the alumni excited.

University of Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is wondering what that is like. Believe him when he says the No. 15-ranked Terrapins should be wary of tonight's opener at Northern Illinois.

Don't write off Friedgen's words as lip service to the Huskies. He has pictures to prove it.

"I showed them the film from last year's Wisconsin game," Friedgen said. "The first nine series, Wisconsin was doing that mamba offense - one-two-three punt. Seven of those series they were in third and long. Wisconsin pulled it out in the end, but if that doesn't get their attention, then we're in trouble."


That game film was of Northern's 24-21 loss at Wisconsin. The Huskies led 21-17 with 2:13 remaining, but the Badgers escaped embarrassment by scoring in six plays with the help of three penalties.

"Wisconsin thought they were going to have an easy game because Northern Illinois was coming into their stadium," said nose tackle C.J. Feldheim. "Wisconsin had to pull it out in the end. We can't underestimate them."

Northern Illinois may not be a Notre Dame, but it is still more than an ordinary mid-major conference upstart. The Huskies could be considered a threat, especially playing at home in DeKalb, Ill.

Northern Illinois finished 8-4, including a seven-game winning streak, and defeated Wake Forest before losing to Wisconsin. This season, the Huskies have games with Alabama, Tennessee Tech and Iowa State after playing Maryland. They are also favored to win the Mid-American Conference title.

And if that isn't enough, they have senior tailback Michael Turner, who is being touted as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Turner finished with 1,915 yards last year - second only to Penn State's Larry Johnson in Division I. He averaged 159.6 yards a game, ran for 19 touchdowns and topped the 200-yard mark five times.

"Northern Illinois is a good team. They have been in games like this before," Friedgen said. "Turner is an excellent back. One of the best in the country. He runs a 4.4. We have to play good, sound football."

Tucker will be facing a Maryland defense which returns nine starters, including the entire secondary, to a unit that was seventh in the nation in points allowed last year.

Still, for Maryland the game is a matter of defending its ranking while getting ready for the season ahead. The next roadblock is Florida State, a team which has given the Terps major problems in Friedgen's first two years.

"We have learned to respect our opponent no matter who they are," tailback Josh Allen said. "They are not a team to take lightly. They have played some big teams and have come out with big wins. We have Florida State coming up (next week), but we have to take care of business this week to get to next week."

Allen will be the key caretaker of Maryland's business. The sophomore will be the feature back because of the number of injuries the Terps have suffered in the preseason. The Terps will be without Bruce Perry, the Atlantic Coast Conference's 2001 Offensive Player of the Year, and Mario Merrills. Seven other key players are scheduled to miss the game, including standout receiver and return specialist Steve Suter.

Senior quarterback Scott McBrien will play, despite being hampered with a strained groin for the last week.

"I'm going to have to carry the load," Allen said. "We have a lot of injuries and I'm going to have to play hard."

Wisconsin proved playing hard is the only way the Terps can afford to approach the opener.

"This team stuck with Wisconsin." receiver Latrez Harrison said. "Wisconsin couldn't move the ball. They played Wisconsin and gave them a really good game.

"I think the pressure on us will be bigger than in most games because we are supposed to win. If we win, we did what we are supposed to do. If we lose, it's a whole different ball game."

- The Associated Press also contributed to this story.

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