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Terrapins focused on staying focused

September 17, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The easy part of Ralph Friedgen's job -- if there is such a thing -- is putting the thought into the Xs and Os of a game.

But the most difficult part for the University of Maryland football coach is figuring out the thoughts of the players who use those Xs and Os.

The ongoing mind game over what matters continues for Friedgen and the Terrapins when they face Eastern Michigan on Saturday at Byrd Stadium. It sets up for another in the ongoing battle between coach and team when it comes to realizing every game is important, no matter the opponent.

"My job is to get them out of that," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "It isn't easy to do. We were up 28-6 (last Saturday against California) and we still had to pull the trigger. I was in their faces in the huddle saying, 'Let's put this away,' and they were looking at me like I'm crazy."

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In layman's terms, the Terrapins have a habit of playing to the perceived level of the competition they face.

Two weeks ago, Maryland wasn't impressed with the challenge presented by Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders used their spread offense to get outside on the Terps' defense. A lack of urgency ended in a 24-14 loss in one of those "supposed to win" games.

It led to a tough week of practices, focusing on focusing for an entire game.

And the Terps came out tuned in last Saturday. They outplayed then-No. 23 California, a high-powered team averaging 52 points per game. Maryland came to play, holding California in check for 53 minutes. But the Golden Bears, whose bodies were adjusting to playing technically three hours earlier than normal because of the cross-country flight, scored three times in the final seven minutes to close to within 35-27.

It was another case of Maryland coming out strong before losing focus as the game wore on.

"(Cal was) running two patterns and we had covered them all day," Friedgen said. "We played well on defense until the last seven minutes. Part of it is focus. When you are focused, you don't relax. We played the first 28 plays (on offense) the way we are supposed to. Then, all of a sudden, we broke down all over the place. We have to correct that."

That dulling of Maryland's edge has been staying on Friedgen's mind.

"I've been giving that a lot of thought," Friedgen said. "I've come to the conclusion that we have to practice consistently to play consistently. It reflects. We practice very well until the final 20 minutes. We have to continue to stress to the players those inconsistencies. We have to see if we can practice more consistent the whole practice."

And after a peak Maryland performance against California, Friedgen is trying to keep the Terps from hitting another valley.

Eastern Michigan is a team with a similar offense and personnel as Middle Tennessee. The Eagles will enter the game with a spread attack, which remains difficult for the Terps to defend, and a Maryland game tape to see how Middle Tennessee pulled out the victory.

"We had a good practice (on Monday) and the kids are excited," Friedgen said. "My message to them was that we played very well and we played a very good team, but we could play better."

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