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Terrapins look for life in Death Valley

September 26, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland football team is facing arguably its biggest Atlantic Coast Conference game of the season as its league opener Saturday at No. 20 Clemson.

It is a game the Terrapins have circled on the calendar since training camp.

"They have a lot of weapons and are, I think, one of the most talented teams in the ACC," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "In the preseason, they were picked to win the ACC. This will be a real challenge for us."

Add to the mix the fact that Maryland (3-1) has changed its offensive set to more of a West Coast style and will still be trying to perfect it while playing the Tigers (3-1) at Death Valley, one of the most storied and hostile environments in college football. It is a game that could tell the Terps a lot about themselves as an offense, a team, the direction of their season and if they are a contender for the ACC title.

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"I kind of knew that this Clemson game was obviously going to be an important one for us. We want to start off on the right foot to get to our goal to be ACC champions," Maryland senior center Edwin Williams said. "I'm excited for the competition. Every time you play Clemson, there is always some type of adversity or something you have to go through. Hopefully we just practice well this week and are ready to play on Saturday."

A loud crowd that is pulling against you is just the obvious distraction when a team heads into Clemson, which is 243-94-7 all-time at its home stadium. The Terps expect a difficult time communicating while on the field.

"(The loud crowd) is something you can't prepare for," Williams said. "In away games, you just have to understand what kind of environment you are in for."

But for Maryland, there are more things in the fold.

First, Maryland has to prove it can play on the road. The Terps' only experience thus far this season is a 24-14 loss at Middle Tennessee.

Then, there is Maryland's defense which is battling injuries in the secondary while giving up nearly 1,000 yards in the air over the last three games.

And finally comes the task of perfecting the new offense. Maryland players and coaches say the Terps haven't shown everything yet. One of the wrinkles that showed up at the end of last week's 51-24 win over Eastern Michigan was how the offense works with quarterback Josh Portis, who adds an option dimension.

In reality, Portis hasn't shown any passing ability yet, but he does know how to run the ball, as his game-high 98 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Michigan proved.

"Josh is a big guy and can run over some people," Williams said. "He is just getting started."

Still, with so much at stake, the best thing the Terps can do is to continue doing what they have been doing.

"From each week you have to build on what you did the previous week, just kind of starting all over again," Williams said. "Consistency goes a long way as far as practice goes ... Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday ... you have to be consistent and practice very hard. And when Saturday comes just let loose and play the game."

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