Terps' anatomy has backbone

September 08, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - What started out as a football game ended up being an anatomy lesson for the University of Maryland football team.

When it came down to it, coach Ralph Friedgen discovered what this season's Terrapins lack in acquired brain power and coordination, they make up for it in intestinal fortitude, oversized hearts ... and mouths to match.

The Terps got an on-the-spot physical during last Saturday's 23-20 win over Northern Illinois. It was a game where most of Maryland's shortcomings were waved out in the open as if from the back of a hospital gown, but the Terps found a way to cover up and tie all the loose ends.


"We know this is a work in progress," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "I'm elated that we won the game. That is the concern I had, that we would make mistakes and it would cost us the game. I told our team I think we were better than three points over Northern Illinois, but you can't turn the ball over and expect to win. I told them we dodged a bullet. Anytime you don't play as well as you are capable of playing and still win, that's a big plus."

The plus came in the unlikely approach the Terps had in the tight situation. Maryland acted far beyond its years as this youthful team overcame the adversity caused by three turnovers in the first four possessions and stayed grounded to get the win.

"Here's the thing that I'm pleased with," Friedgen said. "Last year, we had a senior team and when things didn't go right, there was a sense of panic. On Saturday, this team had a sense of determination, no panic. It was just whatever it takes to get it done."

Age and maturity are the biggest difference between this year's and last year's team. The 2003 Terps were covered in senior players. In 2004, most of Maryland's backup players are underclassmen.

In a sense, it has promoted a kind of "Ignorance is bliss" attitude for the Terps. Maryland might not be smart enough - or in other words, experienced enough - to realize how to act when things start going badly.

But what Maryland has in its favor is a group of players that learned from last year's seniors and is carrying the torch to help the Terps in years to come.

"This team has some real leaders that are not afraid to speak their mind and are not afraid to say anything they feel," Friedgen said. "We had a lot of seniors last year who led by example. These guys are helping the younger kids to mature. On Saturday, if we would have panicked, we probably would have lost the game."

Friedgen singled out kicker Nick Novak, defensive backs Domonique Foxworth and Chris Kelly and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson as part of the vocal crowd that rallied the Terps.

Novak and Jackson were honored for their games as Atlantic Coast Conference Players of the Week. Jackson had a pair of interceptions that led to 10 Maryland points to earn defensive lineman of the week honors. Novak kicked three field goals and a pair of extra points to become the ACC's all-time scoring leader and earn a share of the top specialist award.

But Novak earned a higher regard from his teammates for the way he took the initiative to talk with quarterback Joel Statham, who was making his first start. Statham fumbled the ball away in Maryland's first two possessions, one leading to a Northern Illinois safety.

"I just told him that he's got to forget about it," Novak said. "I told him I know what it's like because I've had my ups and downs."

Football is a sport where coaches are considered the supreme power and their actions are never questioned. Some of the players, like defensive end Shawne Merriman, aren't going to let protocol stop them from putting their two cents in during a pressure situation.

"It's a lot different now than last year," Merriman said. "It isn't that now is better than then, it's just different. This is a more vocal team. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win. If I'm going to get yelled at for some of the things I have said, I will take it. But I don't think (the coaches) will say anything if we get the 'W.'"

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