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Terps' season at crossroads with No. 10 Rutgers next

September 26, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Five weeks into the season's itinerary, the University of Maryland football team finds itself sitting at a stop sign.

The Terrapins are at a point where they are looking both ways to decide which way to turn.

They are sitting at the crossroads.

Maryland sits at 2-2. It travels to face No. 10 Rutgers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. It is coming off a loss to Wake Forest where the Terps led 24-3 late in the third quarter only to allow 28 straight points to lose 31-24 in overtime.

It all adds a little more wind in the road Maryland is traveling, but Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has been on this trip before.

"We've been in this situation in all seven years I've been here," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "We have to play one game at a time. We have a tough road to hoe. We still have some tough teams to come. We have to get better."

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One game at a time is becoming difficult for the Terps.

Maryland scored victories in its first two games, but neither was a resounding decision considering the Terps were playing Division I-AA Villanova and Florida International, which was rated in the preseason as one of the worst teams in the nation. Then Maryland was handled by then-No. 4 West Virginia before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory last week at Wake.

Now, it's Rutgers, a team that was a laughingstock when the contract was signed, but has rounded into one of the nation's top teams in the last two years.

Now, at the crossroads, the Terps must get past last weekend's disappointment to get on with a game which could go a long way to determining the outcome of their season.

"I told them there are things in life worse than this that we're going to have to deal with," Friedgen said. "This is part of what you go through and learn. We've got to look at what we did wrong, analyze it and see if we can get it better for the next game. We've got some kids that are still learning, and hopefully we'll be better for this experience."

The players on hand at the media conference - receiver Danny Oquendo, running back Keon Lattimore, linebacker Erin Henderson and defensive lineman Dre Moore - all said the loss to Wake is out of their system.

"I think it was the next day that I forgot about it," Oquendo said. "It's about getting past last week and getting ready for this week. We just have to keep our confidence up, worry about next week and forget about Wake Forest."

Maryland had the Wake game well in hand until Alphonso Smith picked off a Jordan Steffy pass and ran it back 100 yards for a score with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter. From there, everything unraveled for the Terps.

"Once I saw the interception, I knew there would be a momentum shift," Friedgen said. "When everyone is down, it's a matter of being there with them and not getting on them."

Friedgen depends on the leadership of Maryland's seniors and a players' council he has devised to help get the Terps through the valley of darkness that became Wake Forest and on the right path for Rutgers. Yet, the coach knows that much of how the Terps play this weekend will depend on him.

"A lot of what happens depends on how I react," Friedgen said. "Kids are impressionable. I just told them I had a lot of faith in them, their character and their fortitude. There is nothing we can really do to change what happened Saturday. We've got to move on and go to the next game."

But Friedgen admits, a guy in his position seems to take it a lot harder than any of the players.

"Kids are more resilient than coaches. For coaches, this is our livelihood and we put so much time into it," Friedgen said. "I've kind of done that. I will admit it did hang with me for a little while, but there's nothing you can do about it. If I keep thinking about that one, I'll be in trouble for the next one."

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