Terps refocus on red-zone goal

Making most of chances key against West Virginia

College Football

September 16, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Only two words were needed Wednesday to motivate Maryland's young offensive linemen as they lowered their shoulders and plowed into the red sled, pushing it near the end zone.

"Goal line! Goal line! Goal line!" barked offensive line coach Tom Brattan.

It's a line the Terrapins have struggled crossing in their two games, missing five touchdown opportunities in the red zone on nine chances. It also has been a focus at practice this week, as Maryland (1-1) prepares to host rival West Virginia (2-0) at noon tomorrow at Byrd Stadium.

The Mountaineers, coming off a 35-7 win over Division I-AA Wofford, have the nation's top defense, holding opponents to 128.5 yards a game.

"Once you're inside the 20-yard line, the whole focus changes," Brattan said. "Teams change modes a little bit; they bring out their pressure packages. Once you're within the 5, it's all or nothing. You need to be real sharp, hit your landmarks. There's got to be a certain mentality or attitude of `I'm not going to be denied.'

"We made some mistakes," he said. "We missed some blocking assignments. You can't do that."

On paper, Maryland's red zone offense is nearly perfect, scoring four touchdowns and four field goals in its nine chances. That's a tribute to kicker Dan Ennis, who is 4-for-4 on his field-goal attempts. It's the 35 points the Terps could've earned instead that aren't figured into the equation.

Maryland was on Navy's 9-yard line twice and its 18 once in the season opener. The Terps settled for a field goal all three times. On their first drive Saturday, they got as close as Clemson's 2-yard line, but tailback Mario Merrills was held for no gain, and then pushed back for a loss of 2 yards. Quarterback Sam Hollenbach was unable to connect with receiver Drew Weatherly in the end zone, and Maryland again settled for a field goal.

After watching game film, Merrills said he saw the backside linebacker coming in to blitz wasn't getting blocked.

"That was the biggest problem," said Merrills, who was also pushed back for a loss of 3 yards from Navy's 18-yard line. " ... So when I was getting the ball, I was getting hit behind the line of scrimmage or at the line of scrimmage. We just have to get movement - that's the bottom line.

"When you're down there, it's a battle of wills," he said. "You have to be able to dig the man in front of you out, and I have to be able to break a tackle or drag a guy with me into the end zone."

In the second quarter against Clemson, Hollenbach fumbled on the Tigers' 6-yard line. Not only did the mistake cost Maryland a touchdown, it also cost Hollenbach a few nights' sleep.

"It was unbelievably frustrating," he said. "Mentally, I don't even want to let myself think about the game. If we have the same look and the same play called, I can't make the same mistake."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen pays particular attention to his team's margin of error, which is calculated by dividing all turnovers, interceptions, fumbles, penalties, sacks and drops by the total number of plays. In his 36 years of coaching, Friedgen said he has never lost a game when the margin of error was less than 12 percent.

"If it's over 12 percent," he said, "you're not supposed to win games."

Against Clemson, Maryland's margin of error was 14.9 percent.

To improve upon it, Friedgen had a goal-line scrimmage at Tuesday's practice.

"I think some of our guys have to learn what it takes to practice goal line," he said. "Am I concerned? Yeah, I'm worried, but I have to weigh the chance of injury with the chance of scoring. If we don't get better, we're not going to score."

Next for Maryland

Matchup: West Virginia (2-0) at Maryland (1-1)

When: Tomorrow, noon

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/1300 AM, 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 3

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