COLLEGE PARK - Akron is an oasis. Akron is a trap.
That's the way it is for Maryland, which has the option of thinking of the Zips as a walk-over to get healthy against or the opponent in a dangerous game that could doom an entire season two games in.
With the Terrapins coming off a 22-0 loss to Notre Dame last weekend in the Kickoff Classic, their current foe is less able than their last. But in a news conference yesterday, coach Ralph Friedgen said he hopes his team doesn't look past visiting Akron Saturday night at 6 and on to next weekend, when the team will play host to No. 5 Florida State in another nationally televised game.
"They better not be," Friedgen said. "We'll be 0-2 if that happens. Then you'll all have some fun if that happens."
Friedgen's comments came only three days after the Notre Dame game, which still had the coach a bit crabby. The Terps, who were ranked No. 21 going into the game but fell out of the Top 25, gained 133 yards of total offense - most notably being limited to 16 rushing yards.
When asked to describe his state of mind during the performance, Friedgen replied, "What do you think? Next question."
The game spoke for itself. Maryland couldn't run. Maryland couldn't pass. Notre Dame could kick field goals. The qualities present in most games of Friedgen's tenure - poise and discipline - were scarce.
"You can't bring it back, so you might as well think about your next opponent," said cornerback Dennard Wilson, part of a defense that played well as the offense suffered. "I have to play my role as a defensive back and as a defensive player. It's not my right to say anything about the offense."
Yet from the outside, the offense is where the focus likely will be for most of this week. While the sky isn't falling, Maryland's offense never looked as bad last year as it did at the beginning of the 2002 season, when people presumed to have it down pat after 18 months of working with it.
Offensive guard Lamar Bryant said the problem wasn't so much the system as the experience of key components within it, i.e. quarterback Scott McBrien.
"We had a lot of veterans last year who had played, not necessarily in this system, but in college football as a whole," Bryant said. "These people understood what it took to win a game in college football and how to perform in pressure situations."
Nonetheless, Friedgen intends to pare down the team's 1,000-play offense so McBrien and backup Chris Kelley know a few things well.
Spotty performance by the receivers notwithstanding, the quarterbacks were the most criticized after the season opener. It began with the .375 completion percentage (12-for-32 with three interceptions) and included failing to get the offense into the right play and sometimes not making the right decisions during running plays.
"You've just got to take the heat," Kelley said. "I mean, we deserve it. If we'd played good, we wouldn't have gotten any. We just have to get the job done."
Though Akron went 4-7 last year and is coming off a 57-21 loss to Iowa last weekend, the Zips come from the giant-killer Mid-American Conference. The league boasts a Miami of Ohio win over North Carolina and Central Florida's near-defeat of Penn State.
Friedgen feigned ignorance of the conference's triumphs and near-triumphs. Asked if he might make his team aware of them, he shrugged and offered, "I'll mention it to them."
Next for Terps
Opponent: Akron (0-1)
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast pay-per-view/ WIYY (97.9 FM)
Line: Maryland by 22