On encouraging note, Terps rise above mental mistakes

September 05, 2005|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

In the weeks leading up to Maryland's season opener, Ralph Friedgen said he had no idea what to expect out of his young team. And though the Terps' dramatic 23-20 victory over Navy on Saturday seemed to assuage some of his preseason concerns, Friedgen acknowledged yesterday that Maryland still has a lot of kinks to work through.

"We made a lot of mental mistakes," Friedgen said. "I just think some of our young kids kind of panicked. More in the first half than in the second. ... Kids playing in their first game usually do that. But we had plays where we've probably worked on them 500 times, and all the sudden we don't block them right. I don't know why that is. The same type of things happened defensively."

Those kinds of errors hindered Maryland during its 2004 season, when the Terps went 5-6 and failed to advance to a bowl game for the first time under Friedgen. But unlike last year's team, Maryland didn't completely collapse after a few early miscues, and in the end, that seemed to be the difference. And if you believe Maryland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, it couldn't have worked out any better.

"I'd rather win like this than totally dominate a team, especially the first game of the season," said Jackson, who tied a career high with 18 tackles. "There were a bunch of questions about our football team, and our offense stepped up big and had our backs. On defense, we weren't able to handle them at first, but we settled down as the game went on. Special teams came through, too. That's the kind of stuff we need."

Friedgen was equally encouraged, especially after repeatedly watching his team wilt in big moments a year ago.

"The one thing you can't coach is heart, and I thought the kids showed that [Saturday]," Friedgen said. "They hung in there through adversity. Those are all good signs. Everything else we can get corrected. If they hadn't hung in there, I'd feel a lot worse than I do today."

Although Maryland's offense has already shown significant improvement from last season, it remains to be seen whether the Terps defense has improved or regressed. Part of the reason for that uncertainty is the unique challenge Navy presents with its triple option. The Midshipmen run an offense that is rare in college football and difficult to prepare for, and the Terps looked confused and a step slow in the first half as Navy moved the ball easily.

"It really is tough to tell [where the team is defensively]," Friedgen said. "It's such a tough offense to defend, and they do such a great job of running it."

Friedgen said he is hopeful that wide receiver Derrick Fenner will be able to return to the field this week but that his status is uncertain. Fenner suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit against Navy and was hospitalized Saturday night after he temporarily lost feeling in his arms and legs. Friedgen said Fenner was released from the hospital yesterday.

"This morning, he looked good," Friedgen said. "They'll give him a test tomorrow to see if he has any memory problems from the concussion, and if he passes the test, he'll probably practice on Wednesday. If he doesn't pass, he may not play in the game."

Maryland now turns its full attention to Clemson, a team that beat the Terps in Death Valley last year after a controversial pass interference penalty late in the game enabled the Tigers to score the game-winning touchdown. The Atlantic Coast Conference later apologized to Friedgen, saying its officials got the call wrong. On Saturday, the Tigers upset No. 17 Texas A&M, 25-24 but lost quarterback Charlie Whitehurst when he was hit in the head on a sandwich tackle while sliding for a 3-yard gain in the fourth quarter.

"I'm looking at Clemson, and they're pretty good," Friedgen said. "They're big, strong and fast. We've got our work cut out for us."

Next for Terps

Matchup: Clemson (1-0) at Maryland (1-0)

When: Saturday, noon

TV/Radio: ESPN/1300 AM

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