With backs against wall, Terps facing long climb

UM needs 3 wins for bowl, but Seminoles, Cavs loom

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

In the past three weeks, Maryland's football team has been hit hard by emotions that it rarely, if ever, had to deal with in the previous three years.

During the Terps' three-game losing streak, they've been embarrassed, frustrated, exasperated, disappointed and angered. The good feelings of Maryland's 3-1 start have disappeared, and the confidence that was built up over three straight 10-win seasons has evaporated.

Hard to believe, then, that the most challenging part of the Terps' schedule is still to come.

The Terps need at least three wins in their final four games to have any shot at a bowl game, and if they can somehow pull that off, it would likely be one of the biggest turnarounds in the coaching career of Maryland's Ralph Friedgen. Friedgen said yesterday that he's not waving the white flag, and he's not ready to talk about building for next year yet, even though the Terps (3-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) have fallen near the bottom of the conference standings.

"I'm going to play every game to win," Friedgen said yesterday when asked whether he would focus on getting younger players experience after the Terps' 10-7 loss to Clemson. "I think that's important. I think if we get a couple wins, we'll forget about the last three games."

It will certainly be no easy task. Maryland will host No. 5 Florida State this weekend - a team the Terps have never defeated - and then go on the road for games against No. 14 Virginia and Virginia Tech. Friedgen said yesterday that he hopes his team's recent struggles will actually help it against the Seminoles.

"One of the reasons we've never beaten them is that we've never really believed that we could," Friedgen said. "I don't think Florida State has ever really seen our best effort. I hope we can go out there and play fearless."

"If we can win, it would be the biggest upset we've ever had," said Maryland center Kyle Schmitt. "I'm going to go out and play hard, because if we don't, they'll crush us. The No. 5 team in the nation is coming to play us. I think that should be motivation enough."

There were signs of improvement for Maryland against Clemson, especially on offense, but it wasn't enough for Friedgen.

"It was better than the last two weeks, but we can't seem to make a play when we have to make it," Friedgen said.

Friedgen said Maryland's quarterback competition is still open, but that he was pleased with many of the things Joel Statham did against the Tigers. Statham looked much more confident than he had the previous two games, when he was replaced by freshman Jordan Steffy, and led Maryland on two long drives that could have resulted in points if not for some mistakes.

In the first half, Statham got Maryland into field-goal range, but Nick Novak missed a 38-yard kick. In the second half, two of Statham's passes were dropped (one by Vernon Davis, another by Derrick Fenner) that would have given Maryland the ball inside Clemson's 20-yard line.

"He was more relaxed, but he really competed," Friedgen said of Statham. "That's what I was pleased with. He was trying to take the first thing that came to him, and not waiting for the perfect pattern to come open. That's what we asked him to do. I thought he ran the ball with a purpose, and that he grew as a player."

Friedgen said he planned to send a tape of the Clemson game to the ACC and single out some calls that went against Maryland, but that he wouldn't comment further on the officiating. Cornerback Gerrick McPhearson drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone with 28 seconds left, giving Clemson the ball on the 2. Friedgen said he was not happy with the call, and several others, after the game.

"I really don't want to comment further and end up getting suspended," Friedgen said.

Friedgen said Fenner would have a magnetic resonance imaging today, but he declined to talk about the injury the junior suffered against Clemson. Fenner was on crutches after the game, and his injury appeared serious.

Maryland's defense had its third straight solid outing, led by D'Qwell Jackson, who had a career-high 19 tackles. Shawne Merriman also played well, recording three tackles for loss, including one sack that moved him into second place on Maryland's all-time list with 19.5.

Next for Maryland

Matchup: No. 5 Florida State (6-1, 4-1) vs. Maryland (3-4, 1-3)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Florida State by 10 1/2

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