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Wherever 'there' is, 'there' Maryland wants to be

September 21, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ralph Friedgen came off looking like an instant replay judge on Tuesday.

After feeling disgruntled and frazzled after Saturday's loss to West Virginia, the University of Maryland football coach sat down to watch tapes of the 31-19 defeat ... not once, but twice to critique the performance.

And upon further review ...

"We are almost there," said Friedgen Tuesday at his weekly media conference.

"There" is a destination most football teams strive for, but no one is ever sure exactly where it is. It's a coveted place. A place were most teams find comfort. It's where most teams actually win.

And "there" is the journey that the Terps are striving to finish. That comfortable place where they can win a few games. Maryland might have to run a little bit of double time to get there, especially with its 1-2 start and the toughest part of the schedule still ahead.

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Even in a devastating loss to intrastate rival West Virginia, Friedgen indicates that the Terps are closer to "there" than they ever have been before.

"I looked at the offense twice, the defense twice and the special teams once and I came away feeling a little better," Friedgen said. "We're not that far away. We have to play smarter. We still had some foolish penalties. We were also a little unlucky. But I really feel that we have to be able to correct these mistakes. We have to continue to play hard and do a better job stopping the run and running the football."

"There" seems to be a mountain range away, and yet, it might be a lot closer than it may seem.

Mistakes and blown assignments - better known as a lack of execution - have hammered Maryland, particularly in the last two games, both losses in which the Terps got buried in the fourth quarter.

Maryland's running game has been neither. The Terps aren't running the ball well and there is no game to it. The defense has worn down in the fourth quarter, allowing a combined 38 points, including 24 in the final eight minutes of each game.

It means the Terps are having trouble running to run time off the clock and stopping the opponents - Clemson and WVU - from running over them.

"I don't know where we are as a team," Friedgen said. "I know we were 10 points ahead of Clemson until the end and they ended up taking Miami into overtime and now West Virginia is 3-0 which means they are a pretty good team."

Maryland's need for a consistent running game has been held to a standstill because of a young offensive line and execution problems. The Terps, who ran for 210 yards in the opening win against Navy, have managed just 106 yards on the ground in the last two weeks.

"There's one or two mental errors here and there," said offensive lineman Donnie Woods. "The front side may be doing real well on a play, and there's a breakdown on the backside. We really need to be mentally focused right now, know our assignments and just come off the football and hit someone in the mouth."

On defense, it's been a matter of self-inflicted mistakes and too much time on the field, which has worn down tacklers. Friedgen mentioned that the defensive line failed to keep opposing linemen from getting to Maryland's linebackers on Saturday, making it more difficult for the Terps to finish off ball carriers.

In each of the last two games, key penalties have prolonged drives. Against WVU, the Terps hurt themselves by jumping offside on a punt to give the Mountaineers a first down and pave the way to a touchdown.

"We just got to get better," linebacker David Holloway said. "We have to raise the level of our intensity. I don't pinpoint certain groups of people. If someone makes a mistake, someone else has to step in and pick up for it."

Everything has come unraveled for Maryland's rush defense in the fourth quarter. The Terps have allowed 469 rushing yards, including 263 in the final period the last two weeks.

"If you look at our last two games, the defense had played well in stopping the rush until the last eight minutes of the game," Friedgen said. "I think we did wear down as the game went on. We were really controlling the line of scrimmage early in the game."

It might all come down to redefining the map to getting "there" if Maryland hopes to improve.

"What we have to do is go back to our fundamentals," Friedgen said. "We have to eliminate these mistakes and some of that is on the coaches. The team that doesn't beat itself is usually the team that wins. In the last two weeks, we haven't done that."

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