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ACC opener gives Terps 2nd chance

October 04, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - For the last few weeks, the University of Maryland football team has been trying to find some useful way to use its trip to Morgantown, W.Va.

That trek to play West Virginia resulted in an embarrassing loss before a national television audience. Instead of becoming a team for the nation to watch, the Terps effectively became a team for the nation to watch ER instead. Nothing went right in the 45-24 loss.

Now, nearly three weeks later, Maryland has changed its focus. Instead of being a statement game to boost the Terps onto the national scene, the loss to WVU is now something more important.

It's now a life lesson.

The analogies and comparisons rolled out on Tuesday as the Terps prepared to play Georgia Tech in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener on Saturday in Atlanta. There are some loose likenesses between the Yellow Jackets and the Mountaineers, but the biggest thing is that neither place is a pleasant one to visit if you are an opposing player.

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"I think it's an important part of our season," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen during his weekly press conference.

It's a major test for the Terps (3-1), who have only played once away from Byrd Stadium.

On the surface, the game starts the Terps' drive to win three of their last eight games to become bowl eligible. But this game is also Maryland's first chance to show whether it is a contender or a pretender in the chase for the ACC title.

Only four of the 12 teams in the two-conference league are undefeated in league play - that includes Maryland which has yet to play a league game. But only one team - Georgia Tech - is undefeated after playing more than one conference game, at 2-0.

Now, six weeks into the season, Maryland jumps into the pool.

"I like (starting the ACC schedule so late)," Friedgen said. "Right now we are undefeated in the ACC. You get a chance to see where everybody else is. You can see how other teams have played and then where you would fit in with that."

The fit depends on just how well the Terps can draw from the WVU experience and parallels.

Georgia Tech is No. 18 in the latest Associated Press rankings; WVU was fifth when Maryland went to Morgantown, and is fourth now.

Both teams run option-laden offenses with many potent weapons. Each has a lot of speed. Each is highly aggressive on offense.

But most of all, WVU's and Georgia Tech's stadiums don't take kindly to visitors. Neither does Virginia's, Clemson's or Boston College's, for that matter.

"Playing on the road is a big difference," said Maryland linebacker Wesley Jefferson. "It's a mood. At home, you know you have backing. When you go away, nobody likes you. They don't want you there. You just have to get used to it."

Maryland was flustered at WVU, resulting in turnovers and mistakes as the Mountaineers ran off to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The Terps took solace in holding their ground after the first 15 minutes and showed some composure after the damage was done.

"I think we have benefited from that experience (at West Virginia)," Friedgen said. "We've been there and done that. You have to be able to deal with the crowd noise, too; it is part of college football a part of why we play a part of what makes it exciting. We have to be able to deal with it."

Other lessons stem from common sense and watching Georgia Tech play on the road. The Yellow Jackets turned in an impressive victory over Virginia Tech last week, which makes them all the more formidable for the Terps.

Lesson No. 1 - Keep the ball. "I'm hoping they learned that you can't turn the ball over five times (like the Terps did at WVU)," Friedgen said. "If you notice, Georgia Tech's turnover ratio is very good. That is one of the reasons why they have a very good football team. That is going to be a key to this game. You can't go down there and play conservative. You have to do what you have to do to win the football game."

Lesson No. 2 - Stun the crowd. "Georgia Tech was able to do it last week at Virginia Tech," Friedgen said. "They got out to the lead early and it quieted the crowd in Blacksburg. That's what we need to do."

That boils it down to a pride thing for Maryland, which is faced with proving they belong in the ACC's - and college football's - upper echelon.

"We are just trying to show that we are a good team, not the 5-6 teams of the past," said Maryland defensive back Josh Wilson. "We are a good team. We want to show everyone that we belong playing good teams. We have cost ourselves games. We have not been beaten We have beaten ourselves. We didn't do what we needed to do. Just check the last 13 losses."

So, now the time has come for Maryland to do it right. The Terps are counting on rising out of the ashes of the West Virginia loss and using Georgia Tech as the springboard.

"I've been looking for that game where we can break through and really put it all together to play to our potential," Friedgen said. "I'm hoping that is going to be this week, but if it isn't, we are still going to have to play the next week. We can hit this game to get some confidence and get some momentum. That will obviously help us the rest of the season."

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