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Terps break cliche mode, one game at a time

October 31, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

In sports, there are always some quotes that make writers cringe.

"I couldn't do it without my teammates."

"We tried hard but we didn't get any breaks."

And "They didn't beat us, we beat ourselves."

At the University of Maryland, the football team is adapting one of sport's all-time clichs as its motto.

"We are playing one game at a time."

It's fitting for the Terrapins. Because if they are able to worry only about themselves - and take care of their final four games one at a time with wins - everything else will take care of itself.

Maryland is the equivalent of Nero. The Terps can fiddle while the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference is burning to the ground.

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ACC teams are beating the standings into a state of parity.

Glamour teams Florida State and Miami have become nonfactors while every other team is taking turns knocking off this week's King of the Hill.

No one is undefeated in conference play, while Maryland is one of four teams out of 12 with only one loss. Three others check in with two setbacks.

So, what does it mean?

In true clich fashion, the Terps are in control of their own destiny. Maryland fans were obviously confident that the team would be where it stands now, but realists doubted this kind of success.

The Terps entered the season with unsettled feelings about their quarterback, who had a depleted receiving corps to throw to. The defense changed its alignment after all the key players had moved on. Add to the drama that Maryland was replacing both of its coordinators.

Coach Ralph Friedgen had confidence in the Terps. You could say he had to ... that's his job. But Friedgen was taking the reins of the offensive coordinator. It wasn't obvious, but he had a plan.

After a lot of sweat and Tums and some minor adjustments, Maryland is in a prime position.

Both moves were ultimately unveiled in Oct. 21's victory over North Carolina State and carried over to Saturday's win against Florida State.

On defense, defensive tackle Stephon Heyer requested to be moved inside to nose tackle. The move didn't seem like much, but Heyer has held his own in the middle of the line with a push that has collapsed the front of the pocket.

It has allowed Maryland's defense to put more pressure on the quarterback with blitzes from the edges, enhance the run defense and help the secondary in covering receivers.

On offense, Friedgen seems to have the Terps trying to master the basics while eliminating much of the pressure on quarterback Sam Hollenbach. In the first six games, Maryland experienced problems throwing the ball deep, which caused Hollenbach to make mistakes.

Over the last two games, Friedgen has turned the Terps into an attack which mildly resembles the West Coast philosophy. Hollenbach has been throwing swing passes and screens, allowing his receivers the opportunities to make plays. Maryland has been attacking defenses, running plays at spots where defenders have vacated on the rush.

Friedgen has been moving Hollenbach out of the pocket, allowing him to buy time for passes, run or attempt option plays, using the opposing defenses' speed against it.

It has been a cornerstone of Maryland's recent success. Hollenbach has rather pedestrian numbers, going a combined 19 of 29 for 148 yards in the last two games, but he has five touchdowns and no interceptions or fumbles. The senior had a better quarterback rating last year, but has more wins this season.

And now, with efficiency and adjustments made to use the strengths of the personnel, the Terps have qualified to go to their first bowl game since 2003. With that in their back pocket, the Terps can shoot for bigger and better things.

The complexion of the ACC is changing weekly. And the best thing the Terps can do is have tunnel vision, keeping their minds on the game they're playing and off the scoreboards.

An unexpected high finish in the ACC and a possibility of playing for the championship would make "We just took care of business" anything but a clich.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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