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Friedgen hopes OT victory has helped young Terps see the light

November 16, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team climbed the mountain and paid a visit to a wise man last Saturday.

The Terrapins scratched out a 33-30 overtime victory over North Carolina to keep alive all hopes for a winning record and a return to the postseason bowl games schedule. But it meant so much more.

Maryland might have gained two key intangibles for the all-important final two games of the season - enlightenment and inner strength.

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Ralph Friedgen would never be confused with the Dalai Lama, but Maryland's coach knew the Terps had it in them all the time. It was just a matter of coming in from the darkness.

"I knew all about (this team) all along ... I just had to get it out of them," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "I think they learned a little about themselves. In the huddles and on the sidelines, there were some players who became demonstrative about winning the game. Some guys who were being vocal who haven't been vocal before.

"I hope the guys who weren't so vocal got a little religion and saw what this team is capable of."

If there was anytime to get out of the dark, it is now for the Terps.

At 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Terps have a chance to finish as high as second in the Atlantic Division. Maryland would have to beat mammoth Boston College at home on Saturday and knock off North Carolina State next week.

At 5-3 in the ACC, the Terps could finish tied with Florida State for the right to represent the Atlantic Division in the first-ever ACC Championship. Maryland's loss to the Seminoles on Oct. 29 would give Florida State the tiebreaker.

But the difference between 7-4, 6-5 and 5-6 is huge in bowl circles. A 7-4 record would probably make Maryland the ACC's fourth-place team and put the Terps in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31 in Charlotte.

A 6-5 record could send the Terps to either the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 27 or the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 28.

By losing both games, Maryland would be 5-6 and home for the holidays. And with six teams, including Maryland, carrying three ACC losses, there is an outside chance that 6-5 might not guarantee a bowl invitation.

"Sure, that's a concern," Friedgen said. "There are still some at-large bids out there and the league is working hard to secure them. Our biggest worry is to get to the six wins. There is a lot of parity in this league. People are concerned because our top teams are getting knocked off, but it just shows how strong this league is."

Maryland would make a big statement by knocking off No. 23 Boston College, one of the other teams with three ACC losses. The Eagles are a huge, physical team that could present a new set of problems for the Terps.

BC's offensive line averages 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds per man and spearheads a direct and punishing running attack which challenges defenses to stop it.

"We will be tested this week," Friedgen said. "(Boston College isn't) fancy. They are smashmouth. They will run the same play at us 35 times. We know it's coming. We just have to be ready to stop it."

That's about the time Friedgen hopes the Terps' new "religion" kicks in.

Maryland has matured from a young, largely inexperienced team into one which has at least experienced some of the top opponents in the East. The Terps haven't always won, but they have learned in Friedgen's eyes.

"This team has worked extremely hard from the first workout in January to last night," Friedgen said. "The play we've been getting at quarterback and receiver has been much improved and our offensive line has developed. We are also getting consistent performance in the running game.

"The defense might not be as good as last year's, but that's only because they lost a lot, but they play extremely hard. My concern with them is that they have wilted in key spots. I hope they don't do that on Saturday."

That's when the call for true enlightenment comes.

"What I'm hoping is that there will be some self-confidence now," Friedgen said. "It would be a very good win. I would think it would say a lot about our season. When you start winning, it gets to be a momentum thing. A lot of things can start happening when you start believing."

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