Terps left to ponder missed opportunity

`We were in every game,' Friedgen says

team awaits V. Davis' decision

College Football


Ralph Friedgen had a message Saturday for anyone wondering whether two straight 5-6 seasons means that Maryland's football program has slipped a bit after its meteoric rise during his first three years: He'll have the last laugh.

"I don't feel that way at all, but I've obviously gotten to be a worse coach these last two years," Friedgen snapped sarcastically at a reporter after the Terps' 20-14 loss to North Carolina State. "I feel just the opposite. I think our program is about ready to take off. I'm going to remind you of that next year when I see you."

For some time now, people inside the program have felt the Terps have a chance to be extremely good in 2006, especially because so many young players have played major roles the past two seasons. That prophecy may yet come true next season, but there's no question another disappointing finish has ratcheted up the pressure to be successful again.

Three years ago, Maryland was seen as a program on the rise, one that people openly talked about contending for a national championship.

A relationship with Under Armour - an up-and-coming Baltimore clothing maker with hip, provocative commercials - helped boost the Terps' national profile. The company also helped kick in for part of Friedgen's last raise and contract extension.

But that momentum has, at the very least, stalled a tad. Even though Maryland's recent recruiting classes have been consistently rated highly, producing several NFL players, overall success has been harder to come by.

During Saturday's loss to the Wolfpack, ESPN announcers were quick to point out that Friedgen hasn't yet shown he can win with the players he and his staff recruited. It's a sensitive subject in College Park, one that the staff doesn't like addressing, but one that isn't likely to go away in the offseason.

Whatever happens next year, Maryland will look back on the 2005 season and likely see it as a year full of what-ifs. The Terps went 1-4 at home and yet still nearly made it to a bowl game.

"We've got six losses, five of them to nationally ranked teams," Friedgen said. "And we were in every game. Every game. That's what's disappointing to me. When you look back, if we don't turn the ball over and do the things we do, we probably win half of those, if not more. It's starting to grow old with me, big time."

Part of what made the 2005 season so frustrating for the Terps is that, at times, Maryland showed as much heart and guts as anyone in the league.

Against Navy, with the team staring down an embarrassing loss in the closing minutes , Maryland running back Lance Ball made a superb fourth-down reception and run that set up the game-winning touchdown. Against North Carolina, quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw two long touchdowns - both more than 60 yards - to help the Terps win a shootout in a game in which they trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter.

It just didn't feel like a 5-6 season, several players said after the N.C. State game.

But there were also several games - most notably losses to Clemson and Boston College at home, and one on the road to Florida State -in which the Terps had their opponent on the ropes and didn't finish the job.

"We were determined not to let this happen again," Hollenbach said. "We were determined not to let this happen again, and here we are sitting the exact same spot as we were last year. We're 5-6. Nothing else really matters at 5-6."

Though Hollenbach finished second in the ACC in passing yards, he admittedly didn't play well late in the year, throwing two interceptions in each of Maryland's final three games. But in fairness to the junior quarterback, he was never the same after seriously injuring his non-throwing shoulder in a loss to Virginia Tech.

But he still hung in there and showed a lot of guts behind a patchwork offensive line, especially against N.C. State, when Maryland was without an experienced right tackle against Mario Williams, one of the better defensive ends in the country. It worked out OK during the first half, but not in the second.

"It was just like a couple of games we had this year," guard Donnie Woods said. "We were up, we were winning the line of scrimmage, and everybody is positive. We come back out in the second half and we don't make plays and don't get the job done. ... We've just done stupid stuff all year long where we kill ourselves. It's not them beating us, it's us beating ourselves. And we've got to limit that next year if we want to take this program where it wants to go."

The next month will be crucial in making the transition to next season. For starters, Maryland needs to figure out who will be its new defensive coordinator for 2006. Though Friedgen said in the post-game news conference that he didn't anticipate any staff changes, Gary Blackney, the only defensive coordinator Maryland has had in five seasons under Friedgen, quietly retired after the game.

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