W.Va. loss eating at them, Terps hunger for victory

0-3 Duke is foe today as UM opens ACC play

September 25, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Ralph Friedgen tried all week not to talk about West Virginia. The game was in the past, he said. No sense in dwelling on it. This was Duke week, after all. It was time to prepare for the Blue Devils.

And yet, consciously or not, Friedgen couldn't help but return to Maryland's game against the Mountaineers again and again. It was the Terps' first loss since October of last year, and the bad feelings lingered.

"I've got a lousy taste in my mouth right now," Friedgen said. "I want to get rid of it."

Maryland's fourth-year coach gets a chance to cleanse his palette today when the Terps (2-1) take on Duke (0-3) in Durham, N.C., for their Atlantic Coast Conference opener. And if there is one thing Maryland needs more than anything, it's an opportunity to get back on the field.

It's been a tense week in College Park, beginning with Friedgen declaring that quarterback Joel Statham was off-limits to the media until further notice after the sophomore went 9-for-20 for 108 yards and threw three interceptions against West Virginia.

That didn't halt the parade of stories relating to Statham's struggles, and when the week ended, Friedgen was noticeably irritated about some of the criticism his young quarterback had been enduring. He sarcastically declared that Thursday's practice had been, "Wonderful. Just a great practice," when it was clearly not the case. If the Terps win today, it's likely that the kinder, gentler Friedgen will return. But if Duke can pull off the upset, Maryland's players can expect a long, grueling bye week. Maryland doesn't play again until Oct. 9 against Georgia Tech.

"Duke's got everything to gain, nothing to lose," Friedgen said. "They are going to come after us with everything. ... The last time Georgia Tech walked into that place, [Duke] beat them 41-17, so we better not go down there sleepwalking or we'll end up 2-2, and then I will not be very happy."

To win today, Maryland doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to make fewer mistakes. Statistically, Duke has one of the worst offenses in the country (the Blue Devils are averaging just 235.7 yards a game) and its defense isn't much better, giving up 418 yards a contest. The Blue Devils are, however, playing their first home game after opening the season with three straight road losses, and should be fired up after getting thumped by Virginia Tech last week, 41-17, in Blacksburg.

"We're excited to play in front of our fans," said Duke coach Ted Roof, who has spent the week trying to drum up support for the program on campus. "We're doing everything we can to try and get as many people here as we can. At the same time, we have to put a good product on the field."

Wallace Wade Stadium, which holds 33,941, didn't sell out a single game last year and regularly drew crowds smaller than 20,000. It will be quite the change for Maryland, which last week played in front of over 60,000 rabid Mountaineers fans and struggled with the noise.

"It's kind of a different setup," said Maryland defensive end Shawne Merriman. "It's almost like home because no one is yelling and screaming at you. You have to create your own energy and get each other pumped up."

Maryland's most pressing priority will be to get Statham back to the point where he feels comfortable in the pocket and comfortable going through his reads. Multiple times against West Virginia, Maryland had players lined up wrong, including the play that resulted in one of Statham's interceptions. The Terps also had some breakdowns in protection, and in the face of pressure, Statham ended up making some ill-advised throws.

"The thing he has to learn is that if the pass isn't there, he can react to it and take off," said offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. "He's athletic enough to do that."

Defensively, Maryland has to prepare for three different quarterbacks, because Duke hasn't been able to settle on a signal-caller yet. Chris Dapolito, Mike Schneider and Curt Dukes have all split time, with Dapolito seeing the most action.

"We ask these guys to check their egos at the door," Roof said. "I would love to have one quarterback, but at the same time, a guy has to separate himself on game day. Competition is healthy. They each bring something different to the table."

Despite Maryland's recent struggles, Friedgen said he still feels good about his team. From the beginning of the season, he has tried to preach patience, considering how young many of Maryland's players are.

"People are not going to be understanding of that, but they've never had to coach this or deal with this," Friedgen said. "I'm not surprised at some of the things that have happened. I almost anticipated some of this. You've got to try and get it corrected the best we can."

Today's game

No. 23 Maryland (2-1) vs. Duke (0-3)

Site: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 16 1/2

Series: Maryland leads 29-18

Last meeting: Maryland defeated Duke, 33-20, in College Park last year.

Maryland offense vs. Duke defense: The Terps are looking for consistency in their passing game, and the Blue Devils have the worst pass defense in the country. Tight end Vernon Davis, who had a big game vs. Northern Illinois in the season opener, has disappeared the past two games and keeps making mental mistakes. That hasn't made things any easier on quarterback Joel Statham, who has eight turnovers.

Maryland defense vs. Duke offense: The Blue Devils are last in the ACC is passing, scoring and total offense. The reason? Inconsistency at quarterback. Defensive end Shawne Merriman could give Duke all kinds of trouble.

-Kevin Van Valkenburg

Maryland today

Matchup: No. 23 Maryland (2-1, 0-0) vs. Duke (0-3, 0-1)

Site: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, N.C.

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 16 1/2

Inside

Navy, in search of 4-0 start, faces Vanderbilt. Page 8C

Today's state games. Page 8C

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