Terps look to avoid rut

Loss to N.C. State would end hopes for bowl game, ensure second losing season in row

College football


COLLEGE PARK -- Ralph Friedgen clearly didn't care for the question. Before answering, he shifted his weight, leaned forward on the podium, then furrowed his brow and frowned.

Maryland's football team had just lost its fourth home game of the season - this one to Boston College, 31-16 - putting the Terps' postseason bowl aspirations in jeopardy for the second straight year. The inquiry, which would have been laughable two seasons ago, suddenly seemed quite appropriate: After nearly five years, had Friedgen's program plateaued?

"One bad game I don't think signals the decline of a program," Friedgen said, his voice gruff, his tone a tad defensive. "I'm disappointed. But I'm not discouraged."

Still, even when the lights went out and Friedgen's news conference ended, the question continued to hang in the air. It may remain there for some time, depending on what happens this week in Raleigh, N.C.

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) can still become bowl-eligible with a win Saturday on the road against North Carolina State, but a loss would mean two straight losing seasons for the Terps. Even if the Terps do sneak into a bowl game - most likely through an at-large bid, at this point - Maryland will need to make serious strides in the offseason if it hopes to reclaim its position among the ACC's elite programs in 2006.

First and foremost, Friedgen's team needs to cut down on turnovers, a malady that has thwarted Maryland in every one of its five losses this year.

"Until we stop turning the ball over, it's going to be hard to be successful," Friedgen said yesterday. "It's not a lack of effort. The kids are trying hard. They're fighting right to the end. ... We're actually second in the conference in total offense. We ran 85 plays [against Boston College]. If we don't have those turnovers, I think we win. That's what's frustrating."

Friedgen said he remains confident in junior quarterback Sam Hollenbach, despite Hollenbach's shaky play against the Eagles. Hollenbach hasn't been the same since injuring his shoulder against Virginia Tech on Oct. 20 and acknowledged that he aggravated the injury in the third quarter against Boston College on a running play.

"I think his confidence is a little shook right now," Friedgen said of Hollenbach. "But I think that's understandable. We probably need to take him back and show him some earlier tape of when he was playing well. I think he's hurting some, too. ... He's strong enough to come back. He's a solid kid, and we'll be with him and coach him through this."

Friedgen said he thought lately that Hollenbach had been focusing too much on getting the ball to tight end Vernon Davis, something the quarterback didn't deny. Hollenbach's second interception against Boston College - which was returned by linebacker Ray Henderson for a touchdown - occurred when he tried to force the ball to Davis with Maryland trailing 24-16.

"If you're looking for just one guy, and all of the sudden he's not open, then you don't know where to go with ball," Friedgen said. "He's got to fight that temptation to do that. I understand it, because [Davis] definitely makes some plays when he has the ball, but Sam still has to play within the system."

Hollenbach said he was encouraged that several of his teammates came up to him after the game and told him they haven't lost faith in him. He's certainly established credibility already this year by taking a beating at times, yet continuing to play through pain.

"It's just a matter of patience in the pocket and trying to get back to my [backside read]," Hollenbach said. "That's something I haven't been doing enough. It's something we'll have to work on."

Maryland did catch one small break in the closing minutes against Boston College. Cornerback Josh Wilson was ejected for trying to kick an Eagles player, Friedgen said, but he won't be suspended for next week's game because Wilson wasn't technically ejected for fighting. Fighting in the ACC carries an automatic one-game suspension.

"Josh called me and apologized," Friedgen said. "I told him I was disappointed and that's not representative of who he is. The official gave us a break there."


Maryland@ N.C. State Saturday, noon, ESPN, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: N.C. State by 3

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