Friedgen's kids aren't fully grown

October 06, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The University of Maryland scored 28 first-quarter points. The Terps scored on big plays of 70, 45, 80 and 72 yards. They shut down the top rushing offense in the country, and won on the road at a stadium where it has been difficult for them to win.

And while Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was happy about the Terps' 48-17 rout of West Virginia yesterday before 55,146 at Mountaineer Field, he wasn't doing cartwheels, or popping champagne bottles. There were no victory laps, or passing out of cigars.

Oh, Friedgen was delighted because there were a lot of things to like. Impact players are emerging. A quarterback continues to develop. The defense was dominating and the special teams actually have become special.

But Friedgen knows an ambush when he sees one.

While each Maryland-West Virginia game has been dubbed the "Barometer Bowl" because it's usually an indication of how well the Terps will do the rest of the season, Friedgen looked upon yesterday's result more as a growing pain than any possible national recognition.

"I'm happy with the performance, and I don't mean to seem like I'm not happy," Friedgen said. "But I see a lot of areas where we can improve. I think this team is a work in progress, and we have to get better each week. I'm always happy when we win. I'm hoping this is the springboard game. Our kids needed this."

Amen.

They also need Friedgen to keep preaching what he is preaching. Out of the 100 players on the roster, 23 are sophomores, 12 redshirt freshmen and 27 true freshmen. This team can win; now it has to win consistently. That involves a learning process, and it can't be covered in one win, regardless if it is against West Virginia (3-2).

The Terps (4-2) certainly can't afford to get big-headed or complacent now. The heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule is coming up, which means bowl consideration time is about to start. Maryland has a better team than Duke and Wake Forest, and probably Virginia and North Carolina, but those latter two games are on the road.

Maryland also plays host to Georgia Tech and North Carolina State at home, but must travel to Clemson.

Friedgen has to keep the Terps on guard. Apparently, they've bought into his message of keep working.

"It was a huge win," said receiver/return specialist Steve Suter, a former standout at North Carroll. "Look at our schedule. The three games that we won, I'd be lying to say they were against great opponents. We just wanted to prove that we could come out and win against a quality team. There's nothing more to it."

Defensive end Durrand Roundtree said: "Four-and-two sounds a lot better than three-and-three. We don't think we're the best team in the nation, but this game will serve as a great motivator for us. We proved that we can win on the road. We worked hard and won, and we'll work even harder to win the next one."

The Mountaineers didn't work very hard yesterday. They played about a total of one quarter. But West Virginia just wasn't outplayed and out-schemed, the Mountaineers were an unprepared and undisciplined football team. How else can you explain Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien running down the right sideline untouched for a 21-yard touchdown on an option play with 11:08 remaining in the first quarter?

How else do you explain Suter running 80 yards up the middle of the field for a punt return for a touchdown with the Mountaineers barely getting a hand on him with 10 seconds left in the first quarter?

They couldn't pursue, couldn't tackle, couldn't catch and couldn't block. By the end of the first quarter, Maryland had a 28-0 lead. The Terps led 35-10 at the half.

"I thought we had our team better prepared than it showed. We're very disappointed," West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They gave us a lot of hard work during practice. Overall, it was a dismal performance."

But give the Terps credit. This is a much better football team than the one that opened the season with a 22-0 loss to Notre Dame. If Maryland goes on to have a big year, it will be because of its defense. West Virginia entered the game with an average of 345.5 rushing yards, and two of the nation's top rushers in Avon Cobourne (653 yards on 98 carries) and Quincy Wilson (11.5 per rush average).

Cobourne finished with 123 yards rushing, but that included a long of 43. Wilson had 15 yards on six carries. The Terps controlled the gaps at the line of scrimmage and didn't allow many cutback lanes. They had a number of blitz packages, especially off the edge, which helped produce five sacks.

Special teams will also play a major part in the Terps' future success. Brooks Barnard averaged 43.3 yards yesterday, and place-kicker Nick Novak, besides hitting several unreturnable kickoffs that went deep into the end zone, converted on field-goal attempts of 37 and 46 yards, the latter of which would have been good from 56 yards out. Suter had 142 yards on eight punt returns, another reason Maryland won the field possession game.

The key, though, will be Friedgen's offense. Even though running backs Josh Allen and Chris Downs lack the explosion and acceleration of injured starter Bruce Perry, they are both serviceable backs. The X-factor will be McBrien.

He completed eight of 18 passes for 162 yards yesterday but still had the period in the middle of the game when he seemed to lose confidence. Sometimes he can deliver a pass with such zip between two defenders, and other times he holds the ball too long, or just makes bad decisions.

But Friedgen says he'll get better, that he is throwing to second and third reads, something he didn't do earlier in the season.

And maybe he will. McBrien is like the rest of the Terps, a work in progress. So far, you have to like the Terps' overall progress in 2002, and where Friedgen has them headed.

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