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No. 21 Terps are making it happen

November 15, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - There are so many factors that have gone in favor of the University of Maryland football team this season.

It would almost be easy to fill a whole page with the reasons why the No. 21 Terrapins have been a surprising success.

But even with the whole list, you'd have to look at the margins to find the answer.

The Terps have become proficient in two categories - controlling their margin of error and winning the turnover margin - to help build most of the other things they have needed to be in prime contention to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title.

"I think our kids are playing tremendous," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "They are just playing with everything they've got and we are playing good teams. I was just told we have the seventh-toughest schedule in the country, and we are 8-2. That speaks a lot for our players and what kind of kids they are."

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It wasn't that way early. The Terps struggled to a 3-2 record and looked nothing like contenders for the league title.

Maryland is now on a five-game ACC winning streak, but has won the games by a total of 13 points, which means the two margins have been more than just marginal.

It took a couple of subtle turnarounds to get Maryland in position.

On one side, Friedgen pulled out an old formula that he was taught in the early days of his coaching career to quantify the importance of Maryland's margin for errors. The formula charts plays on both offense and defense, tabulating miscues against positive plays - the higher the number, the worse the Terps had played.

"It's very important, there's no doubt about it. It has been on every level I have coached at and it is something I believe in very strongly," Friedgen said. "I think it is one of the reasons we won our first year here. I believe that if you don't beat yourself, you are giving the other team the time to beat itself."

Lately, like in Maryland's 14-13 victory over Miami last Saturday, the numbers have been favorable.

"I don't even remember what it was this week," Friedgen said. "I was behind and started right away getting ready for this week's game. But I don't think we had that many penalties, dropped balls or turnovers. It was pretty good even though we didn't have that many plays. We are finding ways to win and we aren't killing ourselves."

Maryland was swamped by the statistical numbers even though it beat Miami. The formula seems to prove that efficiency and preparation mean a whole lot more than yards gained and time of possession.

"We only had one sack last week and won. ... Last year we had a game with 11 sacks," Friedgen said. "We didn't turn the ball over last week. We had 33 interceptions the last two years. We were lucky to be 5-6 then. Now we haven't had any errors."

Another plus has been the way Maryland has taken care of the ball. The Terps didn't turn the ball over against Miami, while taking it away twice in the final 4 minutes to seal the game. Despite being minus-2 in turnover margin for the season, Maryland is plus-4 in ACC games, which is tied for third best in the league with this week's opponent, Boston College.

The sudden ability to take care of the ball has just added to the Terps' margin of competence.

You could say it's a case of "waste not, want not."

"You only get 13 possessions in a football game," Friedgen said. "Every time you hurt yourself in one of those situations, you give the other team one more chance to score on you. Every time you don't score, you give that team another chance. And now, there are a whole lot less plays being run in games than there used to be so there are a whole lot less opportunities."

The ability of working in the margins is a big part of Maryland's midseason turnaround. It also gives Friedgen a great "I told you so," too.

"The big thing is we are more composed than where we were," Friedgen said. "They seem more at ease and they aren't panicking. They are telling me to relax. It comes from success and believing in themselves.

"I remember saying that way back when, that if this team experienced success we could be a very good team. I think we could still play better than how we are playing. We are finding ways to win and we are having the ball bounce our way, there's no doubt about it. I think it takes that to have a good season."

It has all put Maryland on the doorstep of playing for the ACC title. The Terps close at Boston College this week and at home against Wake Forest next week. Both opponents are in the running for the Atlantic Division title.

Again, the margin of error is small for the Terps.

"I told them (Monday), I could go through all of the scenarios, but I am going to keep it real simple for you. You win the next two games and you're playing Georgia Tech on Dec. 2," Friedgen said. "I'm not getting into that we need this to happen or that to happen. We just have to make it happen. That's all you have to worry about, win the next two games."

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