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Terps hopeful next episode will end with happy ending

September 20, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - It's kind of like the soap opera says.

"Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of the University of Maryland's football lives."

The 10 sunrises and sunsets between the West Virginia and Florida International games represent about as wide a spectrum of days as there can be for the Terrapins and coach Ralph Friedgen.

They have gone from hope prior to the West Virginia game to disaster after Thursday's 45-24 loss to the Mountaineers, to reflective over the weekend, to healing now while heading to another peak of hope this weekend when Florida International comes to town.

"(Thursday) wasn't a good day. It was like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "We've all had those days. ... The only problem is that this was on national TV."

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The worst possible scenario for the Terrapins occurred in the loss to West Virginia. The Terps were looking to see how they measured up by facing the then No. 5-ranked Mountaineers. Maryland was relegated to the back seat in a hurry by allowing 28 first-quarter points, largely due to its own mistakes, before a national television audience on ESPN.

Now, the Terps return to the smaller, more regional stage, this weekend against Florida International in a game which could easily become a cornerstone of the season.

"We have an important game coming up this week. It's a very big game on our schedule," Friedgen said. "I know they are 0-3, but they have lost three games by only seven points. They have a lot of good athletes. That is a concern of ours and we have to get ourselves ready to play."

Florida International represents Maryland's final independent game before it begins play in the suddenly wide-open Atlantic Coast Conference. Perennial front-runners Florida State, Clemson and Miami each have a loss in league play, leaving a door open for the Terps. In addition, a win will make Maryland 3-1, leaving the Terps only three wins away from a possible bowl bid.

Florida International is coming off a one-point loss at Middle Tennessee. The Terrapins beat Middle Tennessee 24-10 at Byrd Stadium last Saturday.

"I think a win is important," Friedgen said. "(FIU) is going to be tough to top. I haven't seen them dominated in a game yet."

"What concerns me is they have a lot of athletes," Friedgen said. "I think they're pretty good. Right now, we have to win and I'll be happy with that."

Even though it isn't a game which will make national pollsters take notice, a Maryland victory over Florida International would right the Terps' ship. WVU exposed some of Maryland's problems, but also brought out some of its strong points.

"After watching the tapes, I actually started feeling better about it," Friedgen said. "They hung in there when they could have just flat out laid down. They showed me they have heart and that's the first thing you need to be successful. I'm proud of them for that because I've seen that go the other way. I saw kids that looked adversity in the eye and played as hard as they could possibly play."

The Terps were forced to climb out of a hole created by their special teams and defense. The special teams turned the ball over three times, including once on a fumble during an ill-fated reverse kickoff return following West Virginia's first touchdown. The Mountaineers recovered and made it a 14-0 game before the Terps ever got their offense on the field.

Maryland's defense had problems against the Mountaineers' no-huddle set. The indecisiveness allowed running back Steve Slaton to have a big game and set the tone for the dismal first quarter.

"We did have some communication problems that hopefully will get fixed, but it was not as many as I thought," Friedgen said. "Against the no-huddle, we were using cards to call the defense and some of the guys saw them and some of them didn't. On one occasion, we signaled a blitz and half the team blitzed and the other half didn't, which left a big hole.

"The area we need to improve on is our turnover ratio," Friedgen said. "We are 115th in the nation. It continues to plague us and unless we get that fixed we are not going to get better."

Friedgen said even after the convincing loss to West Virginia, he was happy with the play of quarterback Sam Hollenbach because he "kept his poise and did a good job of executing the offense in a tough situation." He was also happy with the play of Maryland's stable of running backs and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.

"I have a tremendous belief in our players," Friedgen said. "At halftime, I told them it would be a gut check and a pride check. They didn't disappoint me. I'm right there with them and I feel like we can get these problems solved.

"This was one game out of 12. What we can't do is let this get us down any more than it has. We need to move on and keep on improving. I think I need to accentuate the positives and there are a lot of positives."

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