Friedgen holds up hand, sees big ACC prize

Ring raises '01 memories

Terps open league season

October 04, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - In more than three decades of coaching football, Ralph Friedgen has collected three championship rings that mean a lot to him.

There is the 1994 AFC championship ring he got from his time with the San Diego Chargers. There is the national collegiate championship ring he got in 1990 as the offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. And finally, there is the Atlantic Coast Conference championship ring he got two years ago when Maryland won its first conference title since 1985.

Guess which one he'll be wearing today when Maryland begins its conference season against Clemson?

"I wear my Terrapin ACC championship ring because of the way they won it [in 2001]," Friedgen said. "They persevered. They never quit. And that's meaningful to me."

Friedgen wants badly to have similar feelings about this year's team, but with the season reaching its halfway point after today, he still isn't sure what to make of the 2003 Terps.

"I've had some issues with some of the kids' effort, so I met with some of them [this week]," Friedgen said. "I'm always concerned when I don't see the effort. This crew is different than some of the other teams I've had. I'm tested more with them with this team."

Beating Clemson today would certainly help reassure Friedgen the team has completely rebounded from its 0-2 start. Maryland has won its past three games but has yet to defeat a team with a winning record this season.

After a somewhat under- whelming performance against Eastern Michigan, the coach told the Terps it was time to "turn up the juice" this week against the Tigers.

"This is it," Friedgen said. "Now we're in league play and seven games are going to determine our fate. This is a big one. Clemson is a team that is very talented, and we've been successful against them the last two years so they're hungry to beat us."

Interestingly enough, Clemson's season has followed a path similar to Maryland's. The Tigers lost their season opener to No. 11 Georgia, 30-0, but then defeated Furman, Middle Tennessee State and Georgia Tech to move to 3-1. Of those teams, only Furman, a Division I-AA team, has a winning record.

"I think we've made improvements in all phases," said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. "We're running the ball better, our special teams coverage has been better, and our defense has been much better. We gave up 220 yards rushing vs. Georgia. Week to week to week, we've just made a lot of improvements."

Clemson's rush defense will most likely be tested again today. Maryland is the ACC's best running team through five games, averaging 185.2 yards.

"Anybody you play, you have to stop the run, so I don't think there is any doubt that [it is a priority today]," Bowden said. "The fact that Maryland leads the conference in rushing just means they're very, very good at it. That makes it hard to do."

The Terps will have running back Bruce Perry today, though it's unclear how healthy he'll be. Perry had to leave last week's game after aggravating his right-ankle sprain for the third time this season. Sophomore Josh Allen will start, but Friedgen plans to rotate the two backs, giving Perry an equal workload for as long as he can handle it.

One of the biggest keys today will be the play of both quarterbacks. Terps senior Scott McBrien threw for a season-high 252 yards last week and has looked more and more confident with each of Maryland's wins.

Last season against Clemson, he had an up-and-down day, throwing for three touchdowns but also throwing three interceptions. Two of the interceptions were by cornerback Justin Miller, who also forced two fumbles. Though Miller is one of the league's best, don't expect Maryland to avoid throwing his way.

"I didn't throw away from Deion Sanders [at Florida State]," Friedgen said. "I'm not going to do it to Justin Miller."

On the other sideline, sophomore Charlie Whitehurst has looked like one of the league's best through four games, completing 67.7 percent of his passes and throwing for nine touchdowns.

Friedgen knows Whitehurst well. He tried to recruit him when he was at Georgia Tech, and during his time as an assistant at The Citadel, he coached against Whitehurst's father, Danny, who played quarterback at Furman.

"I almost hate to bring that up," Friedgen said. "When you're coaching against the second generation, you know you're getting up there."

After getting kicked around by Clemson for the better part of the '90s, Maryland has managed to play the role of bully the past two seasons. In 2001, the Terps defeated the Tigers, 37-20, ending an eight-game losing streak.

Last season, Maryland won in Death Valley for the first time in 16 years. A win today would give the Terps their first three-game winning streak against the Tigers since 1975-1977.

Even Bowden admitted this week that it's Maryland, not Clemson, that comes into this game with a bull's-eye on its chest. It used to be the Terps wanted to win this game to earn respect around the league, but now, it's the other way around.

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