For growing Terps, Friedgen anticipated pains

Coach says QB decision hasn't been discussed yet

October 18, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - More than two months ago, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen stood before a throng of media and gave a speech that seemed to be full of coaching cliches.

We're a young team, he said. There are going to be growing pains. We're faced with a tremendous challenge, he added, and it's impossible to predict how we'll react to adversity. This season could be the biggest challenge I've faced in my thirty-plus years as a coach.

For the most part, Friedgen's words were met with a collective yawn. Maryland, winners of 31 games in three years, looked like a program that could do no wrong. Friedgen, entering his fourth year as the Terps' head man, sounded like half of the college coaches in America, the ones eager to temper expectations at the start of the year. Besides, interest in the program was at an all-time high. Who wanted to hear about rebuilding?

But six games into the season - and in light of Maryland's back-to-back ugly losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina State - it is easy to see a lot of truth in all that coach-speak. Maryland is young, and so far the growing pains have been especially painful. When Friedgen said three weeks ago that the Terps could conceivably "win all the rest of their games, or lose all the rest of their games" both scenarios seemed implausible. But with Maryland averaging just 86 yards of offense the past two games, the second scenario may have legs after all.

"I've been where I am now, and I've been at other places too," Friedgen said yesterday. "You're always a win away from getting things back."

Friedgen said he hadn't yet discussed with his staff which quarterback will start this week's game against Clemson, but he acknowledged that the competition between sophomore Joel Statham and freshman Jordan Steffy is now "very even." Statham has started all six games for the Terps this year, but he hasn't led Maryland on a scoring drive in two weeks. Steffy led Maryland on a touchdown drive against Georgia Tech, but Friedgen said things got to be "kind of a blur" for him in the second half against N.C. State.

"I don't know if one has an advantage over the other," Friedgen said, adding that the Terps' game plan for Clemson and the raucous environment of Death Valley could play a role in his decision. "Joel has the experience [of playing in front of a hostile crowd] from playing up at West Virginia, but I've seen Jordan running our two-minute drill every day in practice, and he handles it very well."

Friedgen said he felt better about Maryland's effort after watching the tape of N.C. State, but he's somewhat baffled at how quickly the Terps offense has disappeared the last two weeks. Against Duke on Sept. 25, Maryland had 685 total yards.

"What's frustrating to me is, how can we go from having almost 700 yards to not having 100 yards?" Friedgen said. "I see other teams playing [Duke] and they're not doing that against them. So we must have some ability somewhere. I don't know if we have a phobia against certain teams or what."

If nothing else, Maryland's offense desperately needs a big play, or a lucky bounce, to give it a shot of confidence. Statham, who was allowed to speak to the media Saturday for the first time in three weeks, said as much after the game.

"We just needed one big thing to happen," Statham said. "Once we get one big play, I think things will start going downhill. The last few games, we haven't had that one big play that's actually got a drive started."

And Statham's confidence? Has it been shaken at all by Friedgen's decision to turn to Steffy two straight games?

"I wouldn't say it hasn't because I'd be lying if I did," Statham said. "It has a little bit. But I understand why they've been doing the things they've done. Jordan's a great athlete. Everybody knows that and everybody's seen that. They were just trying to give us a spark and get us back into the offense."

Statham wasn't the only one battling self-doubt against the Wolfpack. Even though Maryland was only trailing N.C. State 13-0 in the fourth quarter, when the Terps failed to score a touchdown after recovering a Wolfpack fumble at the opponent's 28-yard line, Friedgen noticed it in his team.

"At times I think we lost a little heart," Friedgen said.

NOTE: Friedgen said Shawne Merriman has a moderate ankle sprain, but should play this week. Brandon Nixon and Russell Bonham are expected back after sitting out with injuries last week.

Next for Terps

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

Site: Clemson (S.C.) Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday, noon

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

Line: Clemson by 3 1/2

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