At 1-2, Terps have been down this road before

Friedgen has overcome 2 early losses in past but faces test with Wake Forest looming

College Football

September 24, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. // The point has been made repeatedly this week: Maryland has lost two games early in the season before, and both times, coach Ralph Friedgen directed the Terps to 10-win seasons.

Once again, that season-defining juncture has come, the point where the turnaround was made in 2002 and 2003 before morphing into bowl-game winners. Only this time, Friedgen isn't sure whether he can do it again.

"It's when, more than if," he said. "When is it going to happen? I don't even know if it will happen this year. But I believe the players we have are good players. ... We'll see what they're made of [today]."

In its first true road game of the season, Maryland enters today's 3:30 p.m. kickoff in Groves Stadium against Wake Forest at 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Demon Deacons, also 1-2, are in the Atlantic Division with the Terps, and will play their first conference game of the season before a homecoming crowd.

What was once an almost guaranteed win against a program that hasn't had a winning season in the ACC since 1987 - Maryland has won 11 of its past 14 against Wake Forest - has turned into an unsettling question mark for those trying to reverse Maryland's misfortune.

"We need this win very badly," said special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski, who spent eight years on the Wake Forest coaching staff. "It's a little scary going down there. We've beaten them six times in a row. It's their homecoming. They've been pointing to this game. ... It's time to get Maryland. I know that's what they're telling their team right now."

The Demon Deacons are coming off a 44-34 win over East Carolina in which they rushed for 407 yards. The key to this game will likely be whether Maryland can stop the run for all four quarters. Breakdowns on defense in the final period cost the Terps a 10-point lead two weeks ago against Clemson, and Maryland couldn't get a stop when it needed one most in the waning minutes of last Saturday's 31-19 loss to West Virginia.

On paper, Wake Forest has the best ground game in the ACC, and Maryland is the worst at defending it. The Terps have allowed 220.3 rushing yards per game and nine touchdowns. It's a statistic that has Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney frustrated.

"We've raised the bar pretty high around here," Blackney said. "I'm frustrated and borderline embarrassed. We've played respectable defense around here for four years. Usually, when our offense was struggling, you could still count on our defense to hold us in and give our offense a chance to win it.

"Now all of a sudden, we seem to be the Achilles' heel," he said. "That doesn't sit well with me."

It doesn't sit well with the man in charge, either. Nor does the fact that Maryland's running game has been held to under 60 yards in each of the past two games. Still, Friedgen said this team is better than the one that produced a 5-6 record last season.

As he sat in his red golf cart on Thursday and chatted with reporters before heading off the practice field, Friedgen reminisced about the January 2004 Gator Bowl winners, a squad that trounced West Virginia, 41-7. Maryland began that season 0-2.

Midway through the season, the team watched highlight film set to music from the film Gladiator. The day of the Virginia game, one of his players asked to see it again. Friedgen put his Bose stereo system in the locker room, and they watched it once more before the kickoff.

"From that game on, we played the best football since I've been here," he said. "I think that had a lot to do with uniting that team. This team, I really don't know where we're at. The more you lose, the more it plays on your psyche. We need to win soon, or it will get tougher and tougher."

In 2002, the Terps began with a 1-2 record but still advanced to the Peach Bowl, where they capped the season with a 30-3 win over Tennessee.

"Being 1-2, it really don't say much," said receiver Derrick Fenner, who was a redshirt freshman in 2002. "Because in past years, we lost the first two games and came back strong. We can come back strong this year and prove everybody wrong."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Today's game

MARYLAND (1-2, 0-1 ACC)@WAKE FOREST (1-2, 0-0)

Site -- Groves Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Time -- 3:30 p.m.

Radio -- 1300 AM

Line -- Wake Forest by 2 1/2

Series -- Maryland leads 39-13-1

Last meeting -- Maryland defeated Wake Forest, 13-7, last fall in College Park.

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