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Brace yourselves - Maryland's ride won't be smooth

September 18, 2005|By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md.

It's time to strap in, keep your seat cushions in the upright position and your hands inside the car at Byrd Stadium.

There is a long ride ahead for the University of Maryland football team, and expect it to be bumpy.

"Things cold get a lot worse before they get better," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "We've been here before. We were 1-2 and then won 10 games."

But the Terps have never been in this spot before. Maryland was thoroughly manhandled by West Virginia on Saturday in a 31-19 loss in the renewal of the longtime border rivalry.

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The Mountaineers not only got the upper hand on the Terps, WVU used it to smack Maryland around the head almost like they were in a dark back alley.

It was a game where WVU purely took it to the Terps, mostly in the fourth quarter, which brought back nightmarish memories of Sept. 10's loss to Clemson. In both games, the Terps were in a position to win, but were forced to assume the position in the end.

"I thought we were like Clemson last week," Friedgen said. "We were in the right position, but we needed a stop or two."

There was no sign of a stop anywhere to be found.

Maryland closed to within 21-19 on two touchdowns in a two-minute span midway through the fourth quarter. But WVU rolled off 77 yards of offense and 10 points in the final 8:19 to seal the game.

In fact, the Terps allowed 24 points and 144 offensive yards in the fourth quarter with 137 of them coming on the ground.

"We just couldn't seem to win the battle up front," Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "The front seven couldn't get a feel for their offense. They just ran the ball down our throats today and there is nothing you can say to that."

There is nothing to say.

Maryland is in that youthful stage where every play and every game is an adventure. It doesn't exactly bode well for a successful season, but it leaves a lot of room for improvement. And there is danger ahead on this thrill ride with Maryland playing Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Boston College and North Carolina State in their final five games of the season.

"We have never played this poor on defense since I have been here," Friedgen said. "We have to change things, people-wise, but we are limited in what we can do."

Friedgen might be looking to stretch the limits, though.

The defense was on the field for 35 minutes, 40 seconds, more than 11 minutes longer than the offense. On WVU's first two scores, the Terps' defense committed critical penalties to prolong both drives and put itself in the desperate situations.

"This week and last week, we felt like we shot ourselves in the foot," defensive back Josh Wilson said. "We kept ourselves on the field. When we stop people, we have to make sure we stop them. The defense has to step up in the fourth quarter and the third quarter and bring it all."

Still, there is a lot of ground to cover to where Maryland can copy the 10-win season of 2002 when the Terps finished with a trip to the Peach Bowl.

"We're a young team. What is very important is that our players stay together, look at mistakes and see what we have to do to get better," Friedgen said. "We have to make our minds up as to where football is in our lives. Is it a priority? Is it something we want to be good at? If it is, we have to put more effort and heart into it.

"I don't concern myself (with thoughts about a downward spiral). I worry about one game at a time. If you think I'm up here worrying about losing games, you're crazy."

For Maryland, that could only make the worst worse and the ride bumpier along the way.

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