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Florida State falling back to Maryland's pack

October 25, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - There are a lot less wrinkles on the faces of the University of Maryland football players these days.

It used to be that the Terps - and most of the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference - had crows feet around their eyes because they would be squinting to focus on Florida State.

The Seminoles always seemed to be so far ahead of the pack. There was a gap the size of a canyon separating FSU from most of the ACC.

But now that separation is more like a moat as far as the Terps are concerned. Maryland now believes it belongs on the same field, let alone the same league, as Florida State.

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"Obviously, I think we've closed the gap. Yet, they still have a lot of good athletes and a lot of speed," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen on Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "We are a lot better against them than we were before (I) got here, but we still have a long way to go."

While Saturday's 7 p.m. game at Byrd Stadium is still a big-ticket event, Florida State is a lot less imposing and stands on a shorter pedestal than it used to.

Part of it is because of the Seminoles' struggles this season. Florida State will enter the game out of the Top 25 and in last place in the ACC's Atlantic Division with a 4-3, 2-3 record. The Seminoles owned an untouchable mystique when they first entered the ACC, but suddenly, they seem almost mortal.

"I don't know if it's a slide or if the rest of the ACC is driven," Friedgen said. "One of the things I think goes unnoticed about the ACC is that every team is so close. If you get two guys nicked up here, or you are not ready to play that one day, or you fumble the ball a couple times, you are beat. That's what happens. You have eight or nine good teams and you have to play them each and every week. It takes a toll on you. That's what I think happened."

Maryland (5-2, 2-1) is one of those "eight or nine good teams" Friedgen referred to, but the Terps have been more like the little puppy nipping at the Seminoles' heels instead of the dominant big dog.

They have been very competitive, but have been unable take down the Seminoles.

Florida State is 15-1 against the Terps and has outscored Maryland 159-78 since Friedgen took over the program in 2001.

Maryland's one victory was a 20-17 win in 2004 and the Terps nearly made it two straight last season, but FSU rallied from 10 points down to take a 35-27 victory, which ultimately kept Maryland home for bowl season with a 5-6 final record.

"We have played them tight since I've been here until late in the game," Friedgen said. "Last year, we were leading until we turned the ball over a couple of times late in the game. I hope we don't have the turnovers this year."

One aspect Florida State has counted on against Maryland has always been its speed. The Seminoles have been able to bust a big play, usually late in the game, which has always seemed to break the Terps' collective back.

"The last couple of years, we have played the long ball better and we have got a couple of long balls on them," Friedgen said. "We still have to get better at it, though. We know they are going to do it at least 10 times in the game and we have to be ready, because if we're not, that could mean two touchdowns. Early on, that was a real problem for us. Hopefully we can do it again Saturday."

The Terps come into the game on a positive note after notching a 26-20 victory over North Carolina State last Saturday. Maryland showed some new wrinkles on offense and defense to play its best game of the season.

Meanwhile, Florida State lost to Boston College last week, which only makes the Terps wearier of the game.

"We are going to see them at their best. They have a lot of pride and a tremendous tradition," Friedgen said. "What are we going to do ... run and hide? I'm not worried about what they are going to be like. I'm more worried about what we will be like. I know they are a good team, though. I know what I see on tape. They got my attention."

Even though the Seminoles are wounded, they are still dangerous. Florida State still has a wide-open offense that can score quickly and a dominant defense against the run. Maryland primarily used the ground game to take down N.C. State on Saturday.

"We are going to have to (open up the offense)," Friedgen said. "I don't think we are going to be able to line up and run at them.

Saturday's game is the first in the Murderer's Row lineup Maryland faces to close the season while trying to get it first bowl bid in three years. After Florida State, the Terps close with games against Clemson, Miami, Boston College and Wake Forest.

"One of our goals is to get to a bowl game," Friedgen said. "If we could get that sixth win it would be big. Right now we have our hands full with Florida State. It doesn't matter who we play in the next four or five games, or next year. We have a lot to worry about right now."

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