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Terps build momentum one moment at a time

November 16, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team has become a logical bunch.

The No. 21 Terps have tackled the 2006 season a different way.

Most teams look to dominate games in all the statistical categories to win games.

Not Maryland. It's become a case of quality over quantity. The Terps don't necessarily have to be there all the time, just check in at the right times.

It's not a case of coming up with big numbers consistently. It's a case of coming up with a big play at the right time.

Just at the time the call goes up for a hero.

"Coach (Ralph Friedgen) talks about playing for 'the moment,'" said Maryland linebacker Wesley Jefferson. "It's getting that one play that is going to win the game."

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Sometimes there is more than one "moment" in a game. It is Maryland's job to win all of them, or as many as it can.

Those moments are what have propelled Maryland in the position to win a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

In a lot of phases, it sure isn't because of the Terps' statistics.

The Terps are last in ACC games in time of possession (27:57 per game), first downs (81), total defense (380.9 yards per game) and defending third-down conversions (allowing 45.7 percent success).

They are 11th in rushing defense (176.5 yards per game) and pass defense efficiency.

They are 10th in third-down conversions (30 percent) and red zone defense (allowing scores 83 percent of the time).

And they are ninth in pass defense (204.3 yards per game) and sacks (11).

Yet, Maryland is on a five-game league winning streak, winning those games by a total of 13 points. In fact, the Terps score 21.8 points per game while allowing 20.3.

The key has been rating high in the mistake categories - like the lack of turnovers and penalties - and winning the "moments."

That has been Friedgen's battle cry this season. And Maryland's ability to succeed in those situations has given it victories and needed confidence to win all the tight games.

"At first, it kind of was, 'We can't mess up.'" Jefferson said. "Now we are used to being in tight games. Hopefully, now it's a habit. It has given us a lot of confidence. It started after the Virginia game when we came back from 20 points down at halftime.

"We have a lot more confidence and are hungrier because we are getting a lot closer to what we want. We want to go to Jacksonville (site of the ACC title game)."

The defense won three major "moments" in last Saturday's victory over Miami. It forced two turnovers and got its only quarterback sack in the final four minutes to protect the one-point lead.

The Terps also stopped Miami on a scoring drive, holding the Hurricanes to a field goal instead of a touchdown, which ended up being the difference in winning and losing the game.

"When we get into the red zone, I make a challenge," said Jefferson, who is tied with teammate Erin Henderson as the second-leading tackler in the ACC. "I challenge everyone to make a play and I say, 'My money is on me to do it.' Then everyone else says they put the money on themselves. It's a competition."

In most games, the "moments" pop up out of the blue. But the Terps are trained to recognize them and attack them when they arise.

"We know when they are coming up. We are ready for them," Jefferson said. "We practice for them. Coach gives us challenges at practice to get ready for those moments."

In fact, they are all but telling Friedgen to butt out when it comes to those phases of the game.

"They seem more at ease and they're not panicking," Friedgen said. "On Saturday, I was telling them that it was one of those 'moments.' They told me to relax. They got it covered."

The familiarity of playing in close games has helped the Terps, but not any more than the confidence they have gained by succeeding in the "moments."

"Everything is easier once you get confidence. It's easier to play, easier to go to class, easier to practice," Jefferson said. "It's even easier to get up in the morning. You got a smile on your face and look forward to it."

Now, the Terps are looking forward to this weekend's game at Boston College and then Wake Forest. Win both and Maryland will head right to the ACC title game on Dec. 2 against Georgia Tech, the only ACC team that has beaten the Terps this season.

"We've got to win these games to be successful and to get where we want to be," Jefferson said. "We aren't peaking. We still have a lot of work to do. We got to stay humble and hungry because we still have a lot to do."

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