Dressed for success, Terps energized by black jerseys

Commentary

October 02, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

There was a point early in yesterday's 45-33 victory over 19th-ranked Virginia when the Maryland Terrapins were torn between their new, tough-looking black jerseys and that dark place inside where they wondered whether they were really good enough to compete in the new Atlantic Coast Conference.

No one would admit it, but all you had to do was look at the homecoming T-shirt on the back of Sam Hollenbach after the game and you knew where they were coming from ... though maybe not where they are going:

"Staying Alive in '05."

Now there's a confident slogan.

The Terps (3-2) came within one missed Navy tackle of starting the season 0-3 and arrived at Byrd Stadium yesterday with the ability to take the rest of this season in either of two directions.

Two futile drives and one Hollenbach interception into the first quarter, and it was anybody's guess which direction that would be. Two quick Cavaliers touchdowns at the start of the second quarter and it looked like those black jerseys were headed for an early retirement.

It was at that difficult juncture in a so-far winless home schedule that a lot of players reached down into those shirts and found something more than just the will to survive. The Terrapins scored on their next three drives and went on to run up their biggest point total since their 55-point performance against Duke last September.

This wasn't Duke. This was a ranked team with a top-20 defense, but Hollenbach had a career day and running back Lance Ball more than doubled his season rushing total with 163 yards, and the Terps made a real statement with their first home victory of the year.

"I think that is a testament to how much the mental game comes into it," Hollenbach said. "This team, we always felt like we had players who could make plays. We just weren't doing it. We made a few plays and the confidence started growing and then we just couldn't wait to get back out on the field."

Next week's game at Temple should be a gimme, bringing the Terps back to Byrd in 2 1/2 weeks for a nationally televised midweek confrontation with No. 3 Virginia Tech. Maybe it's a good thing they got the redemption out of the way with an uplifting homecoming victory yesterday, but they don't have to beat the Hokies - or win at Florida State nine days later - to remain bowl eligible.

They do, however, have to build on yesterday's terrific offensive performance to stay alive with three of their last four ACC games on the road.

"I told them Monday night that you have to win four of seven to be bowl eligible," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Now, we've got to win three of the next six. I haven't given up on playing in Jacksonville [the site of the ACC championship game]. That's my goal."

That may not be realistic, but it would have bordered on pure fantasy if the Terps had not stepped up yesterday. Friedgen is coming off his first down year as Maryland coach after resurrecting the program with 31 wins in his first three seasons. He railed a bit at the "doomsayers" in the media when he was confronted with a couple of what-if questions after the uplifting victory, but he knew coming in that Virginia was going to be the litmus for the rest of 2005.

Maybe that's why he brought the week of preparation to an emotional climax with the change in uniform color, which might seem like an insignificant thing until you talk to the players about it.

"It definitely turned the energy level up a notch," Hollenbach said.

The Fridge insisted that the dynamic offensive resurgence had nothing to do with the black jerseys, though the players were very excited to see them hanging in their lockers before the game.

"I was planning on breaking them out at West Virginia, but word got out," Friedgen said. "They've been begging me for them. I didn't even tell them that we had them, but they started seeing them in the bookstore and they figured it out.

"When the kids came in from warmups, they went nuts. I told them jerseys don't win football games ... but if you lose this game, you'll never wear them again."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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