With Friedgen in charge, UM continues to make strides

January 01, 2003|By Mike Preston

ATLANTA - If this were Miami or Florida State, a Peach Bowl win might not mean anything. But this is the University of Maryland, which had not been in back-to-back bowl games since the mid-1980s, and hasn't won a bowl since 1985.

So last night's 30-3 blowout of unranked Tennessee meant something. Maryland students shouldn't set any fires in College Park or turn over cars, and Terps coach Ralph Friedgen shouldn't get keys to the city, but the Terps took another step last night.

They crushed Tennessee on national TV. They embarrassed a program that's in the national championship hunt almost every year. Maryland isn't a national power yet, far from it, but at least the Terps keep gaining some ground in the second year under Friedgen.

The Terps have now gone to two bowls in a row, and for one night, can boast they beat a team with a proud tradition that plays in the prestigious Southeastern Conference. The win will help add another lure for Maryland, which is expected to have a recruiting class ranked between No. 5 and No. 10 nationally.

"I think we won convincingly," Friedgen said. "That was the No. 8 defense in the country - these weren't a bunch of players who didn't play before. They have played some pretty good people before. They played Miami, Alabama and Georgia, and nobody beat them as convincingly as we did. I would think this would put us high up in the polls.

"I've made the analogy to our basketball team. I think Gary Williams and our basketball team have been to eight or nine NCAA tournaments. In the last two years, they've been to the Final Four, and they've finally been able to push through and win a national championship. We're on a different level, but it's equivalent."

Wait a minute, big boy. Let's not get that far ahead of ourselves. Unless you get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, you at least have to win four or five games of consequence during the regular season. Playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the football Terps don't play that many big games a season.

And when they had played teams with such distinction, the Terps had been outclassed by the Florida States, Floridas and Notre Dames. But that changed last night.

Now, they have to win more big ones.

"This win takes us a step higher than last year because we're beating a team that every year is always in a New Year's Day bowl, and comes from the powerful SEC," said Rich Salgado, a former Terps offensive lineman who graduated in 1990, and is now president of Prime Sports One, a Long Island company that does estate planning and provides career-ending insurance for professional athletes. "People are watching this game and saying we're good."

How good?

"I don't know, but we're good, and I'll leave it at that," said Salgado.

Sometimes, it's hard to gain any perspective from bowl games because there are so many, like the Motor City Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl and the Silicon Valley Classic. There appears to be little interest in any of them except the one for the national championship.

But with teams that are either trying to establish a program or rebuild one, like Maryland, there is more than the $2 million payout the school received from Peach Bowl officials.

Skeptics and critics will point out that Tennessee was No. 5 at the beginning of the season, and unranked entering last night's game. They will also point out that the Volunteers (8-5) lost five games this season for the first time since 1998, including losses to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Miami.

That's true.

But should the Terps (11-3) care?

Maryland started this season with another unproven quarterback in Scott McBrien, and he was terrible. All he does now is make plays. The Terps' star linebacker, E.J. Henderson, underwent back surgery during the offseason, but no one shed a tear for the Terps. After the game, McBrien was the offensive MVP, and Henderson received the award on the defensive side.

The Terps have been without top running back Bruce Perry for most of the season due to injuries, and also reshuffled their offensive line several times for the same reason. At one point last night, Maryland's starting three defensive linemen were walk-ons.

The Terps are a young team, but last night was perhaps this program's biggest win since Maryland rallied from a 31-0 halftime deficit to defeat defending national champion Miami, 42-40, in 1984.

The win last night doesn't compare to that game, but that tells you how long it has been, and how downtrodden Maryland's program had become.

Maryland showed no fear of Tennessee early. On the Terps' first drive, they went 67 yards in 13 plays as McBrien finished the drive by faking a handoff to Perry off right guard, and then bootlegging to his left for a 1-yard touchdown.

Maryland made it 14-0 when cornerback Curome Cox intercepted a screen pass from Casey Clausen in the right flat at the Terps' 46-yard line, and then reversed field to run 45 more yards down the left sideline with 11:32 left in the half. From then on out, it was all Maryland.

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