Friedgen: UM start in need of direction

Win aside, coach says there's a lot to improve

College Football

September 03, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - He is barely removed from an exhilarating start to his first year as a head football coach, yet Ralph Friedgen refuses to get too excited.

Forget that, with Saturday's season-opening 23-7 victory over North Carolina, the Maryland Terrapins took an important step toward what could be their first winning season in six years and their first bowl-game bid in 11 seasons.

Forget that Maryland produced a fine showing on defense and special teams and that its offense, which sputtered for much of the day, committed no serious mistakes and pounded the Tar Heels with a physical running game in the second half. And forget that Friedgen has the campus buzzing after winning his first game.

All Friedgen wants to think about is Eastern Michigan, which visits Byrd Stadium on Saturday.

"I can't control the crowd, and I can't control what people write, but I'm going to get [my players] to focus on one game at a time. I will be on the players about that," Friedgen said.

"Football is a game where if you're not ready to play, you're going to get beat. You see it every Saturday. It doesn't matter who we're playing; we've got to get better every day, every week. We've got to be a blue-collar team that punches the clock every day and tries to improve. Our margin of error is not that great."

Friedgen pointed to the ragged appearance of the offense, which wore down Carolina by springing sophomore tailback Bruce Perry for 70 of his career-high 116 rushing yards after halftime and turned two turnovers into 14 fourth-quarter points. Perry will start against Eastern Michigan.

"I liked the toughness with which he ran. He ran exceptionally hard," Friedgen said. "He showed great vision and made cuts that were instinctive. He's earned the starting spot. If he runs like that for 11 games, I'll be a very happy man."

For most of the day, the Terps looked like players struggling to absorb a new offense, which featured a host of formations.

There were plenty of missed blocks and missed assignments, with players lining up in the wrong spots - Perry included. Receivers ran sloppy routes and dropped passes. Although quarterback Shaun Hill did connect with Jafar Williams and Scooter Monroe for touchdown passes, he was not especially sharp with his throws, and he didn't run the option effectively until late in the contest.

Friedgen gave the highest marks on the line to center Melvin Fowler Jr. and tight end Jeff Dugan.

"Our timing was off. Our passing game was not as precise as I'd like it to be. We were just off. We've got to be tougher on the line of scrimmage. Some of the time we weren't putting them in the best position," said Friedgen, who basically rotated two lines. "But I really liked the effort we gave. I thought we were very physical. In the fourth quarter, we were fresher than [Carolina]."

And the Terps came out of their opener in good shape. Friedgen reported no significant injuries. Even senior wide receiver Guilian Gary, who was questionable earlier in the week after suffering a neck sprain nearly two weeks ago, started. Gary actually played opposite his normal wide-out spot, and contributed two catches for 26 yards and chipped in another 36 in return yardage.

Between the outstanding work of punter Brooks Barnard and the defense, Maryland forced the Tar Heels to play on long fields all day. The Terps allowed a 77-yard scoring run by tailback Willie Parker on Carolina's first play, then shut out the Tar Heels by allowing nine first downs and 199 yards the rest of the way. They forced the benching of quarterback Ronald Curry and intercepted three passes.

Linebackers E.J. Henderson (10 tackles) and Aaron Thompson (three sacks) led the unit. Friedgen also was impressed with the performances of nose tackle Charles Hill and outside linebacker Leon Joe (seven tackles).

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