UM effort mostly dismal but not disastrous

September 03, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

College Park — College Park-- --Byrd Stadium was full of people feeling that mix of being both underwhelmed and relieved. So it should be no surprise that Ralph Friedgen was as underwhelmed and relieved as anybody else.

"I'm not satisfied," he acknowledged a half-hour after his Maryland team managed to control yet still hold off William and Mary, 27-14, last night, "but I'm not disappointed either."

That sums it up: not nearly good enough to send the crowd home happy, but not bad enough for anyone to go register the domain name firethefridge.com. A loss, now, that would have gotten some blood pressures boiling. A 13-point win over a Division I-AA payday opponent in the season opener - at best, it beat the alternative.

"Hey, interview us, we'll tell you what we think," said one man among a group of fans in Section 22 - behind the new Chevy Chase Bank Field logo on the sideline - moments after the final gun. They were obliged - and their answer was a sigh.

"Not too good," he said. "It's gonna be a long season."

Possibly a good one, but who could tell after last night? It would have been hard enough to gauge where the Terps are, in something of a make-or-break season on Friedgen's watch, with an opponent like this. Winning by 31-0 might have meant little anyway, and with a mistake corrected here and there, that's exactly how this game could have ended.

But it ended with William and Mary thwarted in a late bid to get within one touchdown in the final minute. With the backup quarterback back on the bench, not trusted enough - because of two ugly turnovers - to kneel down to run out the clock. With the 49,763 on hand on a wet holiday weekend evening a little quiet, a bit stunned, as they headed up the aisles. And with a Terps team that has bowl dreams out-gaining its pigeons from down the road by a whopping 56 total yards.

You've got 11 days (and another home patsy on Saturday) to chew on this before the trip to West Virginia.

Yet there were more than a few bright spots, even during some of the gloomier spots. The prettiest play the Terps ran all day might have been the one that got Danny Oquendo wide-open in the end zone early in the second quarter - except that Sam Hollenbach badly overthrew him, and they kicked a field goal instead to take a 17-0 lead. "Next time, he'll fire it in there," Oquendo said, brimming with confidence in himself, his quarterback and his offense.

There were reasons for lots of confidence in the offense, much of it coming from the running game, which was so effective that Friedgen said that he'd have no hesitation relying on it any time and any place. Keon Lattimore announced his presence with 89 yards, Josh Allen announced his return with 25 on six strong carries, and Lance Ball announced that he hadn't gone anywhere with 86. They accounted for all three Terps touchdowns, two of them going in standing up.

William and Mary was overmatched all the way around, but the only time it looked totally helpless was when Maryland ran the Triplets. It raised the possibility that the Terps could do it against anybody, not just the warm-up act.

If only everybody on all three units - offense, defense and special teams - could have matched them.

Not to denigrate Hollenbach, by the way, because he did make three absolutely spectacular throws that eclipsed the miss in the end zone - one while getting drilled to tight end Joey Haynos for 42 yards to set up the game's first touchdown, one on third-and-11 to a diving Oquendo (again while getting hit) for 38 yards to set up the second touchdown, and a pretty deep ball down the right sideline to Isaiah Williams for 47 yards late in the half, setting up the third and last touchdown.

The potential, then, is there. They never quite got around to realizing it, though.

The second half was really nothing to be proud of. Realistically, William and Mary should have been out of reach and the Terps should have been clearing the bench. They did, in a way, but they gave the Tribe chances that a better team would have jumped all over. Running into a teammate and causing him to fumble, or letting a punt bounce off you and into the other team's hands, or blowing a coverage and letting a receiver walk untouched into the end zone - that won't induce concern, much less fear, in their Atlantic Coast Conference opponents down the road.

And poor Jordan Steffy ... the less said, the better. Just repeat: He's young, he has been injured, he's going to get better ...

It's all going to get better. It's a win, and it's just the first game.

It has to get better. Or else.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Points after -- David Steele

I tried, every day, all week long, as hard as I could, but I failed miserably. I just couldn't get outraged over Maryland selling the naming rights to the Byrd Stadium field. Better that it comes out of Chevy Chase Bank's pocket than mine.

Someone's asleep at the switch at the warehouse, though, since the rights to the Camden Yards bullpen haven't yet been sold to a kerosene manufacturer.

Barry Bonds is hot again, closing within 27 homers of Hank Aaron, and if he gets near the record, I'll be throwing syringes and tubes of cream at him myself.

Starting Thursday night, every blown knee, dislocated shoulder and shattered tibia won't seem so bad, because they'll have happened in "meaningful" games.

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