Beantown blowout dissipates Maryland's sweet aura

November 19, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Boston — Boston-- --The Maryland football team is running out of corners to turn.

The Terps will try again Saturday, at home against Wake Forest, and who knows, if they win, somebody will surely say, "The program has turned the corner."

Again.

Just as it was said two seasons ago after the win over Florida State. And just as it was said a week ago after the win over Miami. The students stormed the field each of those times. Each time, in the next game, the Terps themselves got trampled, and that elusive corner disappeared from view.

Give them credit, though, because this time, Maryland is bowl-bound regardless of what happened at Alumni Stadium yesterday and what might happen at Byrd this weekend. To be sure, 8-3 beats 5-6 any day, no matter how any of it was attained. Remember, last season, they had no clutch wins to balance the giveaway losses to Boston College and North Carolina State.

Still, when games like yesterday's happen - a 38-16 shellacking in which Boston College pretty much had it in cruise control for the final 57 minutes - you wonder whether this program can stand prosperity or not.

When the head coach says, repeatedly, after a game of this magnitude, with a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game under control, that his team was flat, that he didn't have it prepared, that he saw signs here and there last week that the players' minds weren't right - that tells you that the Terps might have come a long way, but have a long way to go.

Then again, you didn't have to wait all the way until late afternoon to learn that from Ralph Friedgen - who, by the way, has done too much to get them over the hump the past five weeks to beat himself up this much this week.

The evidence of how short Maryland is falling was there all day, literally from beginning (the botched option and, uh, the other botched option) to end (the two absolutely hideous final possessions, featuring an astounding five dropped passes in the end zone and an end-zone interception).

It was out of character for this team, even though the Terps have dug themselves holes before. They stormed back against Virginia, but didn't play nearly as sloppily then. They got routed at West Virginia, but that blowout wasn't wrapped in a neat holiday bow the way the two fumbles yesterday were, as well as the third-quarter interception return for a score.

Destiny in their own hands? Not these hands, not this day.

This has been a feisty, opportunistic team throughout the five-game winning streak (by a total of 13 points) leading up to yesterday. None had the faithful holding its breath more than the seemingly culture-altering wins at home over FSU and Miami.

At the same time, the players insisted, the success and the narrow escapes had bred confidence rather than cockiness. "We weren't blowing teams out. We weren't thinking we were all that," said quarterback Sam Hollenbach, adding, "If we'd had plays like we had today against any of the five teams we [beat], we would have lost those games, too."

It all made the mess they made of this one all the more perplexing. Boston College couldn't even mess up enough to make up for the Terps' mistakes. The Eagles never turned it over, but they committed 11 penalties, several of them of the harebrained variety. Four of them gave the Terps first downs, and one (an ineligible receiver downfield that offset a pass interference in the end zone) cost Boston College a first-and-goal at the 1 late in the first quarter.

None of it mattered. Every opportunity the Eagles gave them, the Terps gave it right back.

It's not hard to break this one down: that many turnovers, that many dropped passes, and you deserve what you get. This is the essence of how Friedgen described the two quick fumbles: "You've got to block somebody ... If you don't block somebody, you're going to suffer the results."

Put all those messed-up plays together and it seems to make a picture of a team in over its head. That's harsh, especially after winning the way the Terps had - but Boston College simply isn't good enough to make them look as bad as they did. Good, yes, but not 22 points better, even at home.

The window is wide-open for one of Florida State's and Miami's former sacrificial lambs to step to the forefront of the ACC - and if that's what the Terps want to do, they can't follow wins like last week's by falling on their faces the next. For it to happen this season, rather than in the past leaner years, dilutes the progress that has been made.

So even if the cards fall right, they beat Wake and land the berth in Jacksonville, the taste from yesterday won't be completely washed away.

"I thought we would understand the importance of this game," Friedgen said. "Not to play well in this game is hard for me to tolerate, really."

Nobody should.

david.steele@baltsun.com

David Steele -- Points After

Last year's starting quarterback tried (and acquitted) on rape charges. His backfield mate drawn into two sexual assault cases soon after he leaves school. Evidence of steroid problems, including two players booted off the team. As usual, Miami is a mess and a disgrace to college football. Oh, wait, that all went on at Navy. Yikes.

It appears that the Heisman Trophy race is going to come down to Ohio State's Troy Smith vs. Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, but it's not crystal clear exactly why it's not coming down to West Virginia teammates Steve Slaton and Pat White.

Speaking of the trophy, it's good to see O.J. Simpson still bringing honor and distinction to that award's legacy even in his later years.

Late last week, Kobe Bryant became the youngest, most selfish, most team-wrecking NBA player to score 17,000 career points.

So far, Maryland's men's basketball team doesn't seem to miss the leadership of last season's senior class.

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