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Fewer errors mean more victories for Terps

November 01, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team could use any paper known to man to print coach Ralph Friedgen's game plan and it wouldn't matter.

Nowadays, as long as the Terps execute, the only things Friedgen constantly worries about are the margins.

What the Terps are doing has become less of an issue lately, now that Maryland is riding a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference winning streak. How they are doing it is a different matter all together.

The bottom line in each game is for Maryland to minimize its mistakes. If the Terps master that, it tends to lead to an acceptable margin of victory.

"We don't have much of a margin of error," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "We can't make mistakes."

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Friedgen has a complicated formula to equate the number of mistakes the Terps make in a game. It is a way to quantify turnovers, penalties and breakdowns. Obviously, the smaller that number is, the better the chance for a positive outcome.

Still, there are factors which can help the Terps widen the margin a little more in their favor. Last Saturday's 27-24 victory over Florida State was huge for the Maryland program, but Friedgen was quick to point out that it wasn't perfect.

"Our margin of error was higher than it's been for the last couple of weeks," he said. "If we had had any turnovers, we would have lost the game."

What Maryland lacked in style points it made up for with offensive efficiency and a big-play mentality on defense.

The defense allowed the Seminoles to complete some big plays down the stretch while the Terps were protecting their lead. But a couple of its own big plays - mainly by defensive end Jeremy Navarre, the Atlantic Coast Conference co-defensive player of the week - allowed Maryland to hold the three-point lead and move into a three-way tie for first in the Atlantic Division.

The larger measuring stick for errors comes on the offensive side of the ball. Friedgen has tailored the offense in the last few weeks to give the Terps and quarterback Sam Hollenbach the chance to succeed.

It's a case of shorter being better and more to the point for Maryland.

"I've been trying to get the ball out of there quickly versus teams like North Carolina State, Florida State and Clemson," Friedgen said. "We can't be doing any seven-step drops against them because of their speed. We have to get the ball out of there."

Maryland has scrapped the vertical attack for the time being, switching to more of a short passing game to move the chains, hold the ball and eliminate mistakes.

Hollenbach has shined in the game plan, which mainly consists of bootleg plays along with short swing and screen passes while using the running attack as the foundation.

"I think Sam is gaining confidence," Friedgen said. "I thought the last two games he has done a very good job of just making good decisions, taking chances when they are there and being smart when they are not. I think he threw the ball with confidence the other night and when he did, he put it right on the money."

The style of play hasn't made for many highlight-reel memories, but it's hard to complain about it.

Hollenbach was 12 of 20 passing for 131 yards and three touchdowns without a fumble or an interception. Combined with the win over North Carolina State, Hollenbach is 20 of 29 for 146 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers.

"Our sacks are down and our interceptions are down but our pass production is also down," Friedgen said. "Part of that is because we have been running the ball a lot. That might have to change this week."

Part of it is also Maryland learning to play to its strengths.

The Terps tried to throw deep passes with little success in the first six games of the season. Those plays ended up hurting the Terps more than helping them because it resulted in either stalled drives or interceptions while exposing a problem.

"I wish I had more receivers," Friedgen said. "I only have three and that limits things quite a bit. We're trying to work around that."

The plan that stresses efficiency over effervescence might be a little bland for some palates, but it has the Terps in a prime position.

Maryland is 6-2 overall, including 3-1 in the ACC. It is bowl eligible for the first time since 2003 and finds itself still in the hunt for the ultimate goal - a league championship.

"Mental toughness is going to play a big part," Friedgen said. "The team that can get up in the next four weeks and play with emotion, enthusiasm and will has the best chance of winning the division.

"I told them that we need to focus on us and what we do. Winning will take care of the rest of it. We aren't going to be sneaking up on anyone anymore."

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