At Clemson today, UM seeks road to recovery

Friedgen trying to handle players' frustration, get offense moving again

College Football

October 23, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

At times this past week, it was difficult to tell what Maryland's struggling football team needed more: offense, or a guest spot on Oprah's couch.

After two straight Atlantic Coast Conference losses, you could make a pretty good case for both, actually. Maryland has averaged just 86 yards a game its past two outings, and as a result, there have been more than a few private testimonials by players and coaches about sticking together and not letting tough times tear the team apart. It started last Saturday when things got tense, and even a little heated, in the locker room following Maryland's 13-3 loss to North Carolina State.

"I think it was good for the team," said cornerback Domonique Foxworth. "I think we needed to refocus. We decided there was no need to wait. If we're going to have a discussion, let's keep it inside the locker room and so that's what we did."

Players held a team meeting Monday to clear the air, but it hardly put to bed all the talk of the Terps' emotional state going into today's game against Clemson (2-4, 1-3 ACC), a team Maryland (3-3, 1-2) has defeated three consecutive years. Terps coach Ralph Friedgen was asked repeatedly this week how he was "holding up" under the stress of losing, and as usual, he gave some candid, honest answers.

"My wife worries about me because I don't talk to her," Friedgen joked this week. "I don't want to talk about the game. I'm thinking about it, and I have to talk about it [with the media] because that's my job, but I don't need to talk about it with my wife. The last thing I need is my wife second-guessing me. ... I don't take losses well."

It's been a year full of new experiences for Friedgen and the Terps, who are still learning how to handle adversity after three straight 10-win seasons, and at the same time trying not to get too comfortable with the feeling.

"I don't see any panic, but a lot of people are discouraged right now, and they definitely have to persevere and keep fighting," said senior safety Ray Custis. "I definitely see our offense doing that right now."

There is no doubt the offense feels pressure to perform better. Other than some lapses on third down, the Terps' defense has played well the past few weeks, leading many outside the program to point fingers at the offense. Sports Illustrated even said this week Friedgen's reputation as an offensive mastermind was taking a hit after two straight abysmal performances.

"We want to be a team, but on the same end, we know we're not holding our end of the bargain," said wide receiver Steve Suter. "We watch film and it's just frustrating. It could be one thing every play. We'll pick up the blitz, but we won't run the right route. Or we'll run the right route, but we miss the blitz or the throw. We just can't seem to get everything going."

Maryland will once again go with quarterback Joel Statham this week, in part because backup Jordan Steffy was held out of practice Thursday with an undisclosed injury, and in part because Friedgen said he feels Statham seemed more calm and confident this week in practice than he has in weeks past.

Statham has been anything but stellar the past two games - completing 12 of 25 passes for just 54 yards - but surprisingly his overall numbers are still similar, if not better, than Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, who was considered to be a Heisman Trophy candidate at the beginning of the season. Whitehurst has six touchdown passes, but leads the ACC with 13 interceptions and is completing just 52 percent of his passes. By comparison, Statham has seven touchdowns and seven interceptions and is completing 56 percent of his throws.

Like Maryland, Clemson expected more from itself this season. Numerous pundits picked the Tigers as the dark-horse team of the ACC during preseason, but four straight losses to Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Florida State and Virginia quickly erased that sentiment.

Maryland has had to adjust its goals somewhat this season as well. When Friedgen asked his players what they wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the year, several wrote down "national championship." As it stands, Maryland needs at least three wins in its final five games to even qualify for a bowl game.

"To me, it's a matter of urgency," Friedgen said. "We've got five games left, hopefully six. I'm as frustrated as the kids are. I think we're all bound and determined to do better."

Maryland (3-3) vs. Clemson (2-4)

Site: Clemson (S.C.) Memorial Stadium

Time: Noon

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

Line: Clemson by 4

Series: Clemson leads 27-23-2

Last meeting: Maryland defeated Clemson, 21-7, last year in College Park.

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