If West Virginia is indicator, then this loss is a bad omen

September 18, 2005|By Rick Maese

COLLEGE PARK - If you're the superstitious sort, you rub a bronze turtle when you come out of the tunnel and charge onto the field. That's what the Maryland Terrapins do before every home game.

If you're the superstitious sort, you notice that your team posted a winning record two seasons ago. Then when your wife stops making crab dip before the games, your team goes 5-6. This season, you make sure Gloria Friedgen is making crab dip again.

And if you're the superstitious sort and you find someone parked in your special parking spot at work, you get that car moved as soon as possible. That's what Terps coach Ralph Friedgen had to do last week.

So what do you do if you're the superstitious sort and your team loses, 31-19, to regional rival West Virginia at home? The answer is simple: You worry. Shuffling through the past, that's the only option remaining after yesterday's loss to the Mountaineers.

In politics, a bellwether state is one in which the voters' selection mirrors that of the nation. Put simply, it's considered the best possible predictor of things to come.

That's what West Virginia has historically been for Maryland. More so than any other Terps foe, the Mountaineers annually provide a near-exact hint of what's around the corner.

Entering yesterday's game, the two teams had faced each other 21 times in the previous 20 years. Maryland lost 10 times in that span and went on to a losing record in each of those 10 seasons.

The last time the Terps lost to West Virginia and finished the year with a winning record was 1983.

"If you think I'm sitting here thinking about losing more games, you're crazy," Friedgen said after yesterday's loss. "I don't think that way."

Of course it's possible that this talented-but-young group can still string together some wins. But just three games into the season, the frustration is very apparent, and you can't help but wonder whether it'll fade.

With uneven performances in each of the first three games, the Terps have no sure things on the horizon.

If yesterday's game is any indication of things to come, we can comfortably say there's plenty of reason to worry. When the Maryland coaching staff reviews film today, it is going to find several holes - none of which were created by the Terps' offensive line.

Maryland's rushing offense managed only 50 yards (which doesn't even top the meek 56-yard performance from one week earlier). And the rush defense yesterday allowed 301 yards to the West Virginia backs. The line of scrimmage is supposed to be football's battleground. On both sides of the ball, the Terps treat it like some sort of housewarming, allowing anyone to pass through and make themselves at home. The problems started before kickoff. Friedgen had to scold his players because they were missing blocking assignments in pre-game drills. When you've botched the game plan before a single whistle has blown, you know you're in trouble.

At this point, the Terps are a team defined by its mistakes. Despite stats that look great on paper, quarterback Sam Hollenbach makes poor decisions at important times.

Against West Virginia, he fumbled the ball on four occasions. A first-half fumble knocked the Terps out of field-goal range, and another in the fourth - the only one the Terps failed to recover - knocked the air out of Maryland's late rally.

The Terps converted just two third downs and gave the Mountaineers several extra opportunities. Late in the third quarter, when West Virginia clung to a 7-6 lead, Terps tackle Conrad Bolston jumped offside on a Mountaineers punt attempt. West Virginia received an automatic first down and went on to a score a touchdown that broke the game open.

Just a few minutes later, one of the largest crowds Byrd Stadium has ever seen began to resemble one of the smallest. There were gaping holes in the red quilt that wrapped around the field.

The truth is, there are gaping holes everywhere right now. Maybe too many to fill.

Friedgen is not one to hide his emotions. He was clearly bothered yesterday afternoon. The clock hit zeros and the Terps coach shook the hand of West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez at midfield. Then, tailed by a police officer, Friedgen made a beeline for the locker room.

His eldest daughter, Kelley, approached him near the 35-yard line, raising her right arm for a consolation hug. She wore a look that would sadden a birthday clown. Friedgen didn't even slow down, pushing her arm away and continuing his march.

He was lost in the moment. He needed to keep moving forward. This whole team must. The Terps will have to buck history, though, if they think they're moving toward a bowl game.

Next for Maryland

Matchup: Maryland (1-2) at Wake Forest (1-2)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: TBA/1300 AM, 105.7 FM

Yesterday: Wake Forest beat East Carolina, 44-34.

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