Slow at the start, Terps again bringing selves up to speed

For 2nd straight year, UM surging after early losses

October 10, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - If you ask a football question, there is a good chance Ralph Friedgen will be able to come up with an answer.

It may not always be a right answer - he's quick to concede that point - but Friedgen is rarely shy when it comes to offering his take on things. He did, however, shake his head and plead ignorance this week when asked why his teams traditionally seem to get better as the year goes on, especially after poor starts.

For the second season in a row, Maryland started the year by losing two of its first three games, but both times the Terps responded by reeling off a string of victories. The pattern even holds true during Friedgen's time at Maryland as an offensive coordinator under Bobby Ross. In 1982, the Terps started the year 0-2 and finished 8-4. In 1984, Maryland lost its first two games, but went 9-3 and finished the year ranked No. 12 in the country.

"I don't know what it is," Friedgen said. "Persistence, I guess. Luck. ... The moral to the story is that it's not how you start, it's how you finish."

But if Friedgen's teams are usually so good by season's end, why then can't they be just as good when the season starts? It's a question he has asked himself a few times.

Friedgen has always had the reputation for running intense preseason practices, and there was certainly a time when he wondered if maybe he wasn't getting his players beat up before the games even started.

Since 1982, as a head coach or as an offensive coordinator at the college level, Friedgen has started a season 2-0 just three times: In 1986, when Maryland went 5-5-1; in 1990, when Georgia Tech went 11-0-1 and won a share of the national championship; and in 2001, when Maryland went 10-2.

"[Do] I wear them out? I've thought of that," Friedgen said. "But to be honest, I think we lost the Northern Illinois game [this season] because we weren't in shape. I think I've got them in better shape right now. I think I got soft, if you want to know the truth, because guys were bitching and moaning [about how tough practices were] and I let up. That will never happen again."

For senior safety Dennard Wilson, part of Maryland's problem the last two years has been confidence. While the Terrapins are striving to build a rich tradition like Florida State's, the truth is, they're still in the building process. Every player might enter the season saying he expects to win 10 games, but until it happens, do they really believe it?

"I think like a lot of things in life, it takes time for guys to jell," Wilson said. "Once you start to gain confidence in yourself and the people around you, you can start creating magic. I trust every guy around me and every guy out there. ... But some people might look at what we did the last two years and doubt that we could do it again. Sometimes it takes that certain game, that defining effort to gain back that same confidence you had the year before."

The complexity of Friedgen's offense might be another clue. Last season, it was no secret that quarterback Scott McBrien was struggling early on to grasp Friedgen's 600-page playbook, and it wasn't until Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe simplified things that the team really took off again.

"I think we need to look at that," Friedgen said. "Maybe we try to put too much in too early and we don't have it perfected as much as we'd like."

The ability to rebound after a tough early loss, in offensive lineman Stephon Heyer's opinion, is more about desire than schematics.

"I think it's because we're not tired of winning," Heyer said. "A lot of teams might feel like they've won so many times, they can take a break. We're not that way. We want to accomplish more every time we play."

NOTES: Bruce Perry missed practice yesterday to attend to a personal matter at home in Philadelphia, according to the team. He is expected to return and play tomorrow. ... Backup quarterback Orlando Evans went home to California to deal with a family matter and won't be back for tomorrow's game.

Next for Terps

Matchup: Duke (2-3, 0-2) vs. Maryland (4-2, 1-1)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 27 1/2

Stretch runners

Since 1982, as an offensive coordinator or head coach at the college level, Ralph Friedgen's teams have started a season 2-0 just three times. But over that span, he has helped lead those teams to a 129-64-2 record. (He spent the 1992-1996 seasons with the San Diego Chargers.)

Year Team Start Final

1982 Maryland 0-2 8-4

1983 Maryland 1-1 8-4

1984 Maryland 0-2 9-3

1985 Maryland 1-1 9-3

1986 Maryland 2-0 5-5-1

1987 Georgia Tech 1-1 2-9

1988 Georgia Tech 1-1 3-8

1989 Georgia Tech 0-2 7-4

1990 Georgia Tech 2-0 11-0-1

1991 Georgia Tech 1-1 8-5

1997 Georgia Tech 1-1 7-3

1998 Georgia Tech 1-1 10-2

1999 Georgia Tech 1-1 8-4

2000 Georgia Tech 1-1 9-3

2001 Maryland 2-0 10-2

2002 Maryland 1-1 11-3

2003 Maryland 0-2 4-2*

* Current record

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