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Friedgen hits the tapes to try to resurrect Terps

August 27, 2005

COLLEGE PARK, Md.

Soon after Maryland completed its very disappointing 2004 season, Ralph Friedgen switched on the VCR and turned back the clock.

The Terrapins went 5-6 last year, ending a run of three consecutive stellar seasons in which they won at least 10 games and played in a bowl game. Quarterback issues and a sputtering offense were certainly a factor in the regression, but Friedgen took full responsibility for the slide.

After Maryland completed a 10-3 season in 2003 by crushing West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, Friedgen was convinced that the blueprint for success was in place. So he enjoyed himself in the off-season rather than continue to do the things that enabled him to turn around a program that struggled before his arrival in 2001.

"I go back and start over every year. I look how well we've done, look at our film; analyze it," he said earlier this month. "Last year, I didn't do that. I felt like we had everybody back on our staff. I won't make that mistake again."

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It probably hurt to watch, but Friedgen spent the winter studying tapes of every game of the 2004 season. After spring drills, he and the entire coaching staff viewed each practice session more than a dozen times.

If the Terrapins falter again in 2005, it won't be because of a lack of effort by the coaching staff.

"I don't think there's any question that we're more motivated," Friedgen said. "I think we've done our due diligence. We need to do the best coaching job we've done in our lives this year, and I'm going to be very much involved."

Before Friedgen arrived, there were no lofty expectations at Maryland. Playing in a bowl game had become a distant memory for a program that had just one winning season and three different head coaches in 10 years since 1990.

But Friedgen immediately turned the program into a winner, capturing the Atlantic Coast Conference title in his rookie season and amassing 31 victories and three bowl appearances in his initial three years.

Then came last season. Maryland scored more than 13 points in only one of its final seven games - and lost five of them.

So now it's back to the basics for Friedgen and his gang. No one expects much of Maryland this season, which is precisely the way it was when the coach took over the struggling program four years ago.

"I hope there are a lot of similarities. This group of players is very similar in terms of preparation," Friedgen said. "I think the kids are really hungry. They want to make amends for last year. Not going to a bowl game didn't really hit them until they saw everybody else playing in the bowls."

The key to Friedgen's complicated offense is the quarterback, a job that Sam Hollenbach earned by playing well in spring practice. The junior has also enjoyed an excellent summer, and expects to put his improvement on display in the Sept. 3 opener against Navy in Baltimore.

"To me, it's just managing the offense and playing within the system. That's what the coaches like to stress," Hollenbach said. "I think consistency is important, and playing within the offense. If I do these things, I will be fine."

Especially if he can get support from the running game, which didn't do last year's starting quarterback, Joel Statham, any favors by averaging 2.9 yards per carry.

"Every time Maryland has run the ball successfully, we won games. You have to be able to run the ball on the college level," said Mario Merrills, who is expected to start at tailback.

Merrills is only 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, but he's got huge expectations for this season.

"There's a lot of small backs that have been successful here: Bruce Perry, Chris Downs. I don't worry about that, I just worry about what I have to do on the field. I think it's an advantage to be fast and agile," he said.

The Terrapins have been bothered by injuries to their already thin offensive and defensive lines this summer, which could pose problems against some of the larger, deeper teams in the ACC. If Maryland is to compete in an expanded conference that now includes Miami and Boston College, it must be at full strength.

Mentally, however, the Terrapins are ready to roll.

"A lot of people are picking us to fail, but things like that are motivation to us," wide receiver Derrick Fenner said. "It will only make us stronger. We're definitely going to surprise a lot of people this year."

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