G'bye, but Terps don't fare well

November 23, 2008|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,rick.maese@baltsun.com

It was Senior Night at Byrd Stadium, which meant an evening of emotional goodbyes.

Goodbye, Jaimie Thomas and Edwin Williams. Goodbye, Obi Egekeze and Kevin Barnes, Dave Philistin and Danny Oquendo.

Oh yeah, and goodbye, Atlantic Coast Conference title game; goodbye, Orange Bowl; and goodbye, promising conclusion to a hopelessly erratic season.

The Terps awoke yesterday with visions of oranges dancing in their heads. To clinch the conference championship game in Tampa, Fla., they needed a win over Florida State, coupled with a Wake Forest victory over Boston College. Instead, Wake Forest folded in the fourth quarter of its game and the Terps never bothered showing up for theirs, losing last night in embarrassing fashion, 37-3.

A game billed as a "blackout" - Terps players and fans dressed in black - was instead a knockout. The same Maryland team that has beaten four ranked teams has lost three conference games to unranked teams by a combined 91-16.

And once again last night, we're to believe there's simply no explanation.

"It just didn't happen," coach Ralph Friedgen said last night, "for whatever reason."

Friedgen has said he's baffled by this team, that he can't figure out why the Terps show up for some games and disappear in others. It's become a familiar post-game lamentation.

"I just don't understand how we can play well one week and so poorly the next," he said. "They're a funny team that way."

Funny? There wasn't much laughter to be heard last night.

At some point, such a summation is simply lacking. With one game left, it's past time for a better explanation. A head coach's job is to prepare and to motivate, and there have been too many times this season when the Terps have appeared to be neither.

Florida State so thoroughly dominated the Terps it was clear Maryland would have had little business in the ACC title game. Sure, Florida State was better physically, but more important, mentally and emotionally they better understood what was at stake.

On a frigid night in College Park, Maryland quarterback Chris Turner was little more than kindling for the Seminoles' fire. Florida State's hungry defenders didn't simply sack him five times; they also battered him all night. The Seminoles' defense treated Byrd Stadium as if it were the Florida State student union building.

The linemen in front of Turner showed once again their ability to collapse on command. The Terps tailbacks - still waking up in the middle of the night screaming from that minus-12-yard performance at Virginia Tech - were repeatedly slamming their heads against a wall.

But nothing last night was a surprise. Games this late in the season don't provide revelations. The four bruising quarters offered only confirmations.

For starters, the Terps were properly put in their place. Teams that rely on dumb luck, opponents' errors and bursts of unpredictable will are usually teams that are fortunate to be in contention but not necessarily deserving. These Terps are no team of destiny. Happenstance maybe, but not destiny.

(It's worth noting that a week ago in this space, it was proposed by this foolish observer that the Terps would show up especially determined against Florida State. Clearly, someone kidnapped this observer's laptop. Or his brain.)

There are two big pieces to a big game - preparation and execution. The former rests on the coaches' shoulders and the latter on the players'. In the Terps' biggest game of the season, neither was adequate.

"I wasn't pleased with some of our practices this week," Friedgen said. "I pulled guys in and spoke to them. They assured me that they were ready to go. That wasn't the case."

There is a problem if players are not responding to a head coach. And there's a problem if the head coach can offer no explanation for that disconnect, except to say "it just boggles my mind."

Friedgen has precious little time to figure it out. Though Maryland's Bowl Championship Series game hopes were last seen boarding a plane for Tallahassee, Fla., the Terps' season is not over. In fact, there's still quite a bit riding on next week's season finale at Boston College.

Not only can Maryland determine who represents its division in the ACC title game (Terps win and it's Florida State; they lose and it's Boston College), but their own postseason fate also depends on how they recover from last night's visit to the toolshed.

"They're like me - they're not good," Friedgen said. "My mental state is not really good right now. But I told them that I'll be back to work Monday and for them to come ready to work on Monday."

Saturday's is the kind of game for which you fully expect Maryland players and coaches to be prepared, to be excited, to be completely indomitable in spirit.

Which is precisely why Terps fans are probably worried.

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