Injuries beginning to hobble Terps

October 21, 2007|By RICK MAESE

COLLEGE PARK -- Before last night's game, the season's most popular Halloween costume seemed pretty clear. After all, ever since Chris Turner, that lanky California kid with the cottonball curls, took over as Maryland quarterback three weeks ago, sales of blond afro wigs in College Park have increased a hundredfold.

But after last night's 18-17 nail-biting loss to Virginia, the Turner costume has been supplanted on the season's must-have list. The new costume of choice is a bit more elaborate, but it'll surely bring more candy.

To dress as a Terps offensive lineman this Halloween, you simply need to find two members of the Maryland athletic training staff to walk on either side of you like bookends. Put your arms over their shoulders and then simply limp along. Voila! - candy bars, Laffy Taffy, buffalo wings. You'll be able to gorge on enough holiday junk food to hopefully forget how this year's team has been hindered by injuries.

Entering last night's game, it seemed that even with each win, the Terps suffered a devastating loss. Yesterday, for the first time the Terps showed they could lose both a key player and a key game in the same night. Each week the damage strikes right where Maryland is most vulnerable - the offensive line.

The Terps lost a second lineman in as many games to a broken leg when left guard Jaimie Thomas hobbled off the field in the opening minutes of the second quarter. They finished their drive with Lance Ball's 1-yard touchdown run to take an early 14-3 lead, but that was about it for the offense. With Thomas in the training room, the Terps managed just a single field goal - and 94 yards of total offense - the rest of the way. Turner was scrambling, throwing balls that were swatted down at the line and scurrying away from Virginia defensive end Chris Long like a field mouse in danger.

With Thomas gone, what remained for the final three quarters was a patchwork line that had more holes than a hockey player's smile. In recent games, the Terps suffered similar losses and still found a way to win. It's an intangible quality this team has, and for much of last night's game, despite an offense that seemed to have four flat tires, it looked as if they might again pull out a win - thanks, mostly, to the defense.

The Cavaliers gained 439 yards of total offense last night but had a difficult time reaching the red zone. After Maryland opened the third quarter with a field goal, the Terps held a 17-10 lead. Until the game's final minute, the only second-half scoring the Cavaliers managed came at the end of the third quarter when Long, the Atlantic Coast Conference's leader in sacks and one of the top defensive ends in the country, tore through Maryland's Phil Costa, starting his first game of the season, to sack Turner in the end zone for a safety.

The Terps' defense kept Virginia quiet until the Cavaliers' final possession. Aided by a pass interference call and then a favorable spot on a fourth-down pass play, the Cavaliers scored their only offensive points of the second half with 16 seconds left in the game. Mikell Simpson flipped into the end zone from about a foot out to give the Cavaliers the 18-17 advantage.

In truth, the Terps have been fortunate to have found so much success despite so many injuries. Last night sure felt like a tipping point, a game in which reality set in and the Terps realized the mounting injuries could prove to be crippling.

Just look at the offensive line, the unit that deserves so much credit for Turner's easy transition to the starting lineup and for the moderate success we've seen from tailbacks Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore.

From last season's line, the Terps lost tackle Stephon Heyer to graduation, guard Donnie Woods left the team and Jared Gaither failed to academically qualify to play this season. So Friedgen started this year with just a seven-man rotation, a couple of players fewer than most coaches would prefer. He was confident, though, in each lineman's ability and, more importantly, each player's versatility.

But that seven-man rotation became six when right guard Andrew Crummey broke his fibula two weeks ago against Georgia Tech. And it became five last night when Thomas said good-bye to the game - and probably the season.

Each week, we watch another valuable Terp limp off the field, and finally the injuries have caught up with them. With the talent in the training room rivaling the talent in the locker room, the Terps could struggle to limp their way through a stretch of games that will decide their postseason fate.

For the past few weeks, the devastating injuries didn't seem to phase anyone. But last night, losing to Virginia in the waning moments, everyone, injured and healthy alike, looked dazed. Down the stretch, fielding an offensive dotted line won't be enough.

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