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Practice makes Terps' running game perfect

October 06, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Success hasn't changed Lance Ball.

There are no sunglasses to fend off spotlights and no bodyguards anywhere to keep screaming autograph hunters away.

There isn't even a free pass to the starting lineup for the University of Maryland tailback. There is only one thing that will get him on the field with the first team at the start of Saturday's game at Temple.

Practice.

"Coach (Ralph Friedgen) said, 'Good job,' but a new week is a new week," Ball said. "The only way I'm going to get the start is in practice."

Friedgen turned the tailback position into a weekly competition for playing time. It was a ploy to stimulate a running game that was all but trotting after Mario Merrills' 149-yard outing in the season-opening win over Navy.

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But in losses to Clemson and West Virginia, Maryland barely managed to break 100 rushing yards combined.

Friedgen's "King of the Hill" method shook up the backfield. Merrills, Ball and Keon Lattimore have been locked in a spirited battle for playing time.

It translated into a two-touchdown game for Lattimore in a 22-12 win over Wake Forest on Sept. 24. He also won the battle for the start last Saturday against Virginia.

But Ball elbowed Lattimore out of the way by rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns to help upset the then-No. 19 Cavaliers. Lattimore added two more touchdowns, but Ball was clearly the more effective runner on the day.

That really doesn't matter much now.

"It's a competition. ... It's been that way all summer," Ball said. "Coach is stressing he wants to have a running game and he wants us ready to do it. We have a lot of talent. (Quarterback Sam Hollenbach) can run. We have three backs who can run and if you can run, it makes it harder for the defense."

Diversity and deception fit perfectly into Friedgen's style of offense. Each back brings something different to the offense, and opposing teams can't key in on just one of them because they all can can play at any time.

"I think all of them are playing well," Friedgen said. "They've all had their good games. It's not only how they play in the games, but how they practice. When you have a game like last week, where it's back and forth, you go with the guy that's playing the best at that particular time."

Ball forced Virginia to respect Maryland's running game with an option play that the Terps were running out of a shotgun set. He was the first option with an inside handoff, which almost had the same effect as a draw play.

"It was a lot easier calling plays when you can run the football," Friedgen said. "You can be more aggressive, especially when you have some players to hang your hat on. Lance made some great cuts, but he had some great blocking in front of him. He broke some tackles."

But that was last week. Now it's back to the heap for Ball to prove himself again. There are no get-out-of-the-backfield-free cards or secret trap doors to the front of the running-back pack at Maryland this season.

"It all starts with practice," Ball said. "Whoever gets the start, it will be determined in practice. If we need to run certain plays in the gameplan, it might give me a few brownie points, but it will still come down to practice."

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