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Lattimore can't knock opportunity

October 19, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland running attack is like the first half of a knock-knock riddle.

The Terrapins have built their ground game around four running backs, with one always seeming to have the right answer when opportunity knocks. The Terps have excelled, though, when one of those backs has answered in anticipation of that knock.

That's the friendly rivalry of the Maryland running game. Running backs Keon Lattimore, Lance Ball, Josh Allen and J.P. Humber are best of friends and work together to keep the Terps moving on the ground. It's also a competition to get the lion's share of action from game to game.

"When the opportunity comes, you have to make the best of it," Lattimore said. "You never know when it's going to come."

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Last week, it was Lattimore's turn. He was the main running threat in Maryland's crucial 28-26 come-from-behind victory over Virginia.

Ball was featured through much of the first five games of the season. Allen has seen in the role of top runner, particularly against Virginia two seasons ago, but he missed last season with a major knee injury.

The past didn't matter when it came to Virginia on Saturday, which had to make Lattimore happy. His opportunity came up after he got a wakeup call from coach Ralph Friedgen.

"I was disappointed with the way Keon was running the ball," Friedgen said. "I told him he had to go back to the way he was running the ball before. He had run the ball so well during spring practices. He needed to go back to that."

Lattimore relocated that spring form and became the difference maker for the Terps in the Virginia victory.

He rushed for a career-high 114 yards, including a 56-yard run for the go-ahead touchdown, to help bring the Terps back from a 13-point fourth quarter deficit for the win. That netted Lattimore the Atlantic Coast Conference offensive back of the week honor while adding more diversity to the Maryland running attack.

"That was definitely a confidence booster," Lattimore said. "I know I can do it. Now, I want to get back out there and do it again."

That would be fine with the Terps, who find themselves in the thick of a dogfight in the parity-stricken ACC. Most of the "power teams" are in the middle of the pack in the quest for the ACC Championship game. Only Georgia Tech is undefeated in conference play while six teams have one loss and three have two losses.

Five of the six teams in the Atlantic Division - including Maryland - have one loss, while Florida State has lost twice.

The logjam creates a huge opportunity for Lattimore and the rest of the Maryland running contingent to create some huge results for the Terps.

"I think he is growing in confidence," Friedgen said. "So is Lance. Josh is a good back, too, he's just not back to where he was before he got injured. And J.P. has been showing a lot in practice. I think we got four pretty good backs. And they are running better because we have been throwing the ball better."

Lattimore said Maryland's backs are resigned to the fact that they will be sharing the carries during the course of the game.

"We talk about breaking long runs when the opportunities come," he said. "We have an experienced offensive line and I give them a lot of credit when I break off a run like (Saturday's 56-yarder). They are blocking differently and I think it's helping us a great deal."

Maryland has reverted back to more of a zone blocking scheme, a throwback to the first years of Friedgen's tenure when the Terps won the ACC title. It has helped create those opportunities for the running backs.

So has the "running by committee" style Maryland has employed with Ball and Lattimore grabbing most of the carries while Allen and Humber come in to give a change of pace. It all goes to keep the backfield fresh and the attack diverse, which creates problems for Maryland's opponents. They never know which of the backs is going to be featured.

"You can see it in their defenses, especially in the fourth quarter," Lattimore said. "They're tired and a fresh guy comes out there and they say 'Oh, man.' When the fourth quarter comes around, they don't want to see it."

But which running back will be the beneficiary of the situation will be a simple matter of who has the hot hand.

"We are competitive guys," Lattimore said. "Under (Friedgen), the way things are broken up, it's fair. We are friends we just have to deal with it."

And wait for opportunity to find the door.

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