Friedgen's song just first of many high notes to come

September 02, 2001|By Mike Preston

COLLEGE PARK - Only minutes after the University of Maryland had defeated North Carolina, 23-7, yesterday before a crowd of 44,080 at Byrd Stadium, Terps coach Ralph Friedgen jogged to the closed end of the stadium, stood up on a platform and sang the school fight song.

There will be no Friedgen CDs or appearances on MTV, but a winning team may be appearing in a stadium near you soon.

"You know that was a little out of character for me to go out there on the platform and sing the fight song, but I'm going to do everything I can to put fans in the stands," said Friedgen, Maryland's first-year coach.

He will. It's only a matter of time. The Terps may not receive a major bowl bid in 2001, but the Friedgen era began yesterday with quite a bang. Talk about big games? The Terps had a big one on national television in their season opener.

And they won. Friedgen almost cried.

The win was critical because it signaled that the Terps aren't starting from scratch in trying to return to a Top 10 program. It was the first time since 1991 that Maryland opened its season with a win against an Atlantic Coast Conference team, and the victory came against a team that usually resides in the middle of the conference at the end of the regular season.

So this is an indication that the Terps might move up in class this season or next, from the low-rent district of Duke and Wake Forest to the middle ground with the Tar Heels and North Carolina State. The past three coaches at Maryland didn't have such grand openings, and also had losing seasons in their first year.

Joe Krivak went 4-7 in 1987, Mark Duffner was 3-8 in 1992 and Ron Vanderlinden won only two of 11 games in 1997. Shoot, Vanderlinden lost to Ohio University in his debut.

Ohio University?

No one wants to jinx Friedgen after one game, but with Eastern Michigan, West Virginia, Wake Forest and Virginia the next four opponents, the Terps could find themselves in a favorable position heading into the second half of the season.

The Terps have been in similar positions before under Vanderlinden, but here are some major differences:

First of all, this Maryland team is physically stronger and better conditioned than previously teams. Secondly, this team is well-coached. Sure the players missed tackles and dropped passes, but they usually were in position to make plays yesterday. And last, this team has discipline.

The Terps aren't going to make the costly mistakes in successive games that are the difference between winning and failure. Maryland didn't have one fumble or interception against the Tar Heels. The Terps had only three penalties for 20 yards.

These are the little things that win ballgames, especially when your program lacks a lot of big-play athletes. These are the little things that win close games like the Terps' 13-10 loss to North Carolina last year. These are the things that have separated Maryland from the N.C. States, North Carolinas and Virginias ever since coach Bobby Ross left College Park in 1986.

"We have a lot of seniors on the team that are really tired of losing. These guys have been working hard and they proved it today," Friedgen said. "I felt like the kids responded to me. I've been hard on them, but today they can see why. They got a taste of what it's like. We played with a silent confidence."

Oh, there is another reason why Friedgen will turn it around at Maryland. It's personal. He played at Maryland in the late 1960s. He returned as an assistant in 1982 through 1986 under Ross, the last time the Terps were a power.

Friedgen became a little emotional yesterday when asked about celebrating his first win.

"I've waited so long for this," Friedgen said. "I knew I had the confidence to do this and so many times there was disappointment, so it's definitely special."

Every game, though, will be a challenge. The Terps have a number of deficiencies, especially on offense. Quarterback Shaun Hill is limited in throwing the ball, especially to the far side of the field. Because the Terps were a run-oriented team with LaMont Jordan the past two seasons, the program doesn't have a lot of big-play receivers, and there were a lot of dropped balls yesterday.

The Terps have a young offensive line that allowed three sacks, and didn't have a starting running back until yesterday when Bruce Perry stepped up to rush for 116 yards on 21 carries.

But the Terps do have a solid defense that held North Carolina to 276 total yards anchored by defensive linemen Durrand Roundtree, Charles Hill, C.J. Feldheim and linebackers E.J. Henderson and Aaron Thompson. They also have defensive coordinator Gary Blackney, who threw an assortment of blitzes that baffled the Tar Heels. Maryland intercepted three passes.

They also have punter Brooks Barnard, who pinned North Carolina down by averaging 50.4 yards on eight punts.

But the key will be Friedgen. Despite limited personnel, he kept North Carolina off balance. He ran multiple formations with a lot of motion. He had his team motivated, ready to play in prime time.

Now, if he can just take the air out of the ball a little bit. He has that Brian Billick/Norv Turner mentality of attack and attack even when it's time to slow it down and utilize the running game.

"There are times when I need to become a head coach and not an offensive coordinator," said Friedgen, laughing.

But overall, there weren't too many complaints yesterday. Terps fans caught a vision of the future, and it looks pretty good. The Terps appear ready to move up to the next level with Friedgen leading the way.

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