Belief fueling Maryland's drive

Quick starts in past had a shaky quality

College Football

September 29, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Even within the last decade, when Maryland's football accomplishments were not much to brag about, fast starts were nothing new.

The Terrapins opened at 4-0 in 1995 and at 3-0 in 1999, only to finish with records of 6-5 and 5-6, in respectively. But heading into today's noon game against West Virginia, there's a feeling of confidence on this 3-0 team that wasn't there two years ago.

Right now, Maryland sits atop the Atlantic Coast Conference. It has a 2-0 league record, one-half game ahead of the Virginia squad that comes to Byrd Stadium next week, though Terps quarterback Shaun Hill urged caution in making too much of the fast start.

"We're pretty confident with where we're at, but we can't be too overwhelmed," Hill said. "We're just going to go out every week and win that week. We can't look at the standings right now."

Still, Maryland puts more stock in what it's been able to do this season than in what it did in 1999.

Part of that has to do with new coach Ralph Friedgen, who left his job as Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator to replace Ron Vanderlinden.

It might be only a coincidence, but both Vanderlinden in 1999 and Mark Duffner in 1995 led Maryland to fast starts with teams that experienced failure under them in preceding years. Both coaches lasted just one more season.

In contrast, the wins this year have come in the midst of a honeymoon for first-year coach Friedgen.

"Coach came in and he's making us believe," said fullback Chad Killian, who noted that much of the Maryland roster is unchanged from last year. He remembers the team cheering Friedgen after the team's season-opening win over North Carolina.

"He's like, `No, no, no - it's you guys. The only thing you're doing now is you're believing in yourselves. I think that's a big, big part of that."

More impressive wins are another factor. Maryland's last opponent, Wake Forest, should be competitive in the ACC this season. North Carolina routed Florida State last week, leaving Eastern Michigan as the only cream puff on the Terps' schedule so far.

Contrast that with the 1999 team that squeaked past perennial pushover Temple, Division I-AA also-ran Western Carolina and the worst West Virginia team in the last decade.

"Maybe the media, the fans and everyone else felt those games were easy wins," said cornerback Curome Cox, who didn't play but was around when the 1999 team came one game short of the six victories necessary for a bowl game.

"We've been through a lot more as a team now, so we can trust that confidence. There's more of a team trust, so that when we face adversity we can handle it, whereas before we wouldn't."

Friedgen said he doesn't believe his team would have won last weekend if not for that power of belief. Despite a rugged performance against Wake Forest, the Terps seemed to be living a charmed life at times - Guilian Gary recovered a Bruce Perry fumble and then made a 34-yard reception, and Tony Jackson followed up a bad punt by Brooks Barnard with a game-clinching interception.

Friedgen doesn't expect any breaks this weekend against West Virginia (2-1), which is something of a regional rival. Two years ago, the Terps won the game, 33-0, in College Park, but that's been their only win in the last five years of the series.

Both Friedgen and new Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez, coaching at their alma maters, remember the intensity of past Maryland-West Virginia games and expect this one to be similar.

"The West Virginia-Maryland series, it seems like it's always been early in the year and the winner of that game has gone on to have a pretty good year," said Rodriguez.

Friedgen expects to face a defense stacked against Perry, who ran for 276 yards last weekend and now leads the nation in rushing with 175 yards a game.

West Virginia has given up 241 rushing yards per game but may take a bit of encouragement from the fact that Maryland is last in the ACC in passing yardage with 168 yards per game.

"If I'm a defensive guy right now, I'm going to make us pass," Friedgen said. "So we better get better passing if we expect to win."

Maryland today

Opponent : West Virginia (2-1)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Today, noon

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 9 1/2

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