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Terps hit growth spurt in off week

October 06, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Sometimes, two weeks can seem like a lifetime.

The 14-day span between games won't seem like an eternity to the University of Maryland football team, but coach Ralph Friedgen is counting on last week's off week to be the difference between infancy and adolescence for the Terrapins.

The Terps left their Sept. 25 win over Duke teething but return for this weekend's with Georgia Tech already shaving in the eyes of Friedgen as Maryland begins the critical juncture of the season.

"We're older now than we were," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "This team has a lot of potential. We're still young but we're a lot better than when we started. We have a little more confidence right now and yet we still haven't played as well as we're capable of playing."

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Age is still a relative thing to the Terps. Maryland was the "Before" half of the picture before the off week. Friedgen can only predict if the Terps will look like the "After" come Saturday.

"It has been a good week off. We've gotten healthy and we've taken some time this week to work on some of the things we need to get better at," Friedgen said. "We've also been preparing for Georgia Tech. The kids seem excited about he rest of our season, and this is a critical part of our season. It is a very big game in our season."

Georgia Tech represents the vast majority of the teams Maryland will play the rest of the way. The Yellow Jackets are an Atlantic Coast Conference team, very athletic and are strong enough to beat any team on any given day.

The Yellow Jackets jumped up and defeated the Terps 7-3 in a nationally televised Thursday night game. It became the game that separated Maryland from an ACC co-championship and the unscheduled coming-out party for quarterback Joel Statham. Statham, then a redshirt freshman, was sent into the game cold in the second half after Scott McBrien left with an injury.

"They were throwing all kinds of blitzes at him," Maryland receiver Steve Suter said. "They teed off on him. I felt real bad for him. But this time he will be more prepared. He's going to be (a good quarterback). It's just a matter of when everything clicks for him."

That "click" - the time when Maryland's offense becomes instinctual to Statham - is what Friedgen is looking for coming out of the off week.

"In some respects, Joel wasn't as successful as we would like, but what he showed us last year at Georgia Tech is that he had what it took to be a good quarterback. This time, he will be better prepared. This is another big game for him."

Despite a 3-1 record and the No. 23 slot in the Associated Press poll, Maryland is far from where it needs to be if it plans on challenging for the ACC title and a major bowl bid.

"This game is very critical. We are in the ACC the rest of the year. We have to keep up the momentum week in and week out," said running back Josh Allen. "We really have to jell and come together as a team. We need to get that focus and fight. It's time for us to realize our potential."

When it comes down to it, it's time for Maryland to prove it has come of age in the matter of a couple of idle weeks. It will be the start of an important five-week stretch for the Terps, who will probably define their season with games with Florida State and Virginia in the stretch.

"I think we need to play significantly better than we have played so far," Friedgen said. "I'm looking for this team to improve each week from here on out. We can win all the rest of our games or we can lose them all. It's all in our hands."

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