Friedgen has firm answer to QB question

With Statham struggling in opener, UM coach never considered switch

College Football

September 06, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Practically no one would have been surprised Saturday night if, after watching quarterback Joel Statham fumble three times and throw an interception in the first half, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen had decided to yank his starter and give someone else a shot.

When asked whether he considered such a maneuver yesterday, Friedgen's answer was simple and direct.

"I never gave it any thought," Friedgen said. "Not one bit whatsoever. None."

Friedgen acknowledged, though, that he surprised himself a little with how much patience he showed. The patience ultimately paid off as Statham rebounded in the second half, helping the Terps to a 23-20 victory over Northern Illinois in the opener.

"Joel kept his poise pretty good," Friedgen said.

"I've seen guys who do that, and they don't want to go back in. They get that faraway look in their eyes or they get real conservative. But Joel stayed composed and made some throws. I was proud of him. Now we just have to accentuate the positives and try to get rid of the negatives."

Statham's bumpy debut wasn't the only thing Friedgen was concerned about after watching a tape of Maryland's victory.

The Terps got pushed around late in the game, committed dumb penalties and blew assignments. But in all, Friedgen said he found a lot to build on, especially from some of his younger players. Linebacker David Holloway and guard Russell Bonham both played well in their first career starts, as did defensive tackle Conrad Bolston. And though Statham's mistakes on the option were costly, they also seemed completely out of character.

"We fumbled twice, and we probably haven't fumbled two pitches the entire preseason," Friedgen said. "I'd like to keep that play because we averaged about 10 yards each time we ran it last year. Obviously, it's not something we were concerned about or we wouldn't have called it on the 2-yard line."

"I've run the option my whole life," Statham said Saturday. "I guess it was just jitters that caused me to do that."

Despite the mistakes, Maryland managed to find a way to win its opener, something it didn't do last year, and hadn't done since 2001, Friedgen's first year at Maryland.

As young as Maryland is, the Terps also got strong performances from their older players. Friedgen said he thought Shawne Merriman (10 total tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage) played the best game of his career.

"It's certainly the best he's ever played against the run," Friedgen said.

D'Qwell Jackson's two interceptions were perhaps the biggest plays of the night, but the Terps also got a big contribution from safety Chris Kelley, who made nine tackles, and 2 1/2 behind the line of scrimmage.

"Chris played really well," Friedgen said. "I think he was blitzing a couple of times at the end and I don't know if he was supposed to be, but that's OK.

"We're a young football team and sometimes you're going to be too aggressive."

Just as encouraging for Friedgen was the way the team - and the 51,830 fans at Byrd Stadium - didn't point fingers or get down when Northern Illinois started to rally.

"I'm very proud of the way we won," Friedgen said. "We were together, and I saw each unit rooting for the other. The crowd was loud, and it was definitely a factor is us winning the game."

Maryland's coaching staff has already come up with a preliminary game plan for Temple, the Terps' opponent next week. Even though Temple is not traditionally strong, and lost to Virginia, 44-14, Saturday, Friedgen said the Terps still have plenty of things they need to correct before they face the Owls.

"We're still a work in progress," Freidgen said.

"It's important for people to understand that. If we go out and put the ball on the ground four or five times again, then we're not headed in the right direction."

NOTES: Tackle Stephon Heyer sprained his ankle in the first half, but he played most of the game. ... Josh Wilson, who left the game with the help of Maryland's trainers in the second half, was suffering from cramps and should be fine, Friedgen said.

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