In football, it's hares that win, not turtles

October 28, 2001|By Mike Preston

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - When the college football season is over, the first trip Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen needs to make is to Florida to recruit some speed.

Or maybe he should have left his staff in the state last night.

The Terps can get their linemen from Pennsylvania or New Jersey and their linebackers from Ohio or Maryland, but they need to squeeze some of those fast, skilled players out of Florida or Texas. They don't have to be blue chippers - second or third level will do.

But Maryland needs speed. The Terps were as slow as turtles yesterday. Lack of speed is what stops them from becoming a Top 5 team. It's also one of the main reasons the No. 10 Terps lost, 52-31, to No. 19 Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium before a crowd of 82,565.

There were other critical factors, such as Florida State turning three of Maryland's four turnovers into touchdowns and Seminoles freshman quarterback Chris Rix playing the best game of his young collegiate career by completing 15 of 24 passes for 350 yards and five touchdowns.

But the Seminoles' win exposed a major weakness in the Maryland program if the Terps want to join the likes of Florida, Miami, Florida State and Oklahoma. The Terps need speed at the running back, secondary and receiver positions.

Florida State ran a track meet on Maryland yesterday. Fly patterns, fade routs, posts and flag routs. Zoom. Goodbye. By midway in the fourth quarter, the host team had run the Terps into exhaustion.

The road to the Atlantic Coast Conference title still runs through Tallahassee, and Cinderella teams like Maryland need to bring their track shoes.

"That will be our No. 1 priority," said Friedgen, about his team's overall speed after the game. "Speed allows you to do so many more things. It opens up the game for you. It allows you to stretch teams vertically."[The Seminoles] have great speed. They have more speed than I do. They made plays when they had to make them. We had opportunities and we didn't make the plays. I don't fault our kids' effort. We played hard. We just didn't play smart. That's the story of this game."

Friedgen has done a great job in his first season. He can coach with anybody. His team is deliberate, methodical and can muscle up with any team in the ACC.

Despite the turnovers, the Terps were still in the game until midway in the final period, which is a tribute to the resolve of both the coaching staff and the players.

But that's not good enough. Speed is a necessity, which is why former Alabama coach Bear Byrant began recruiting black players.

Maryland had success in the conference in the 1970s under coach Jerry Claiborne, but Texas routed the Terps, 42-0, in the 1978 Sun Bowl with a lineup that included three sprinters named Jones.

Jimmy Johnson had speed at Miami and Steve Spurrier has an abundance of it at Florida. None of those teams fear turtles.

Seminoles receivers Talman Gardner (six catches, 140 yards, three touchdowns), Atrews Bell (four catches, 104 yards, one touchdown) and Javon Walker (two catches, 48 yards, one touchdown) blew past Terps defenders like they were standing still.

Poor Maryland.

The Terps were without top cornerback Tony Okanlawon, who didn't make the trip because of an illness. Florida State repeatedly picked on cornerbacks Dennard Wilson and Curmome Cox, both sophomores who played as well as they could.

"Tony is our best cover guy," said Friedgen. "He has good speed. I told Dennard, `You can't hide, man. You're all we got. You've got to get it done.' I wasn't trying to chastise him, just support him. I can live with guys as long they give me all you got."

It just wasn't enough. Florida State receivers actually ran a clinic. Rix's first touchdown pass of 16 yards over the middle was a slant-in to Gardner early in the second period. The second one, which came with 1:48 left in the period, was on a 9-yard fade to Gardner.

By the start of the third quarter, Florida State had no respect for Maryland's secondary. The Seminoles' second offensive play of the second half was a 57-yard pass to Gardner that led to a 31-yard field goal.

Rix threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Gardner in the fourth quarter, and two more scoring passes of 22 and 31 yards in the period. The quarterback had completions of 57, 47, 51 and 57 yards.

Meanwhile, Maryland had virtually no home run hitters. Their top skill player, running back Bruce Perry, looks great when he plays against Wake Forest and Duke, but yesterday he looked like just another back. There were holes when he ran, but he didn't accelerate fast enough.

Friedgen knows the deal. He had game-breakers when he was the offensive coordinator at Georgia tech. Maryland might not be able to get the best and fastest skill players out of Florida or Texas, but even the third- or fourth-best would complement good coaching.

Friedgen sounded like a man who was about to go on another mission yesterday.

"I'm not a good loser; never have been, probably never will be," he said. "I told the players this is the first time you lost with me and you better act like you lost. It better hurt you like it hurts me because I might snatch somebody up and say something I might regret later on."

"You get real close to a real good team and you want to win so bad it hurts," said Friedgen. "It irritates me. It really does."

So that means Friedgen will do something about it. If Maryland is to become a team ranked consistently in the Top 10, it's going to need some fast, impact players.

Just like Florida State, which has 41 players on its roster from Florida.

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