Terps look to silence No. 21 West Virginia on Saturday

Maryland will be going for its first road victory since September 2008

September 18, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — What Maryland players best remember about their last road victory is the way the stadium suddenly turned quieter than a campus chapel as the game ended. It was as if 80,000 fans hit the mute button all at once.

"Dead quiet," said senior linebacker Alex Wujciak, still savoring the moment two years later. It was Sept. 27, 2008, when Wujciak made a key fourth-down stop to silence the orange-clad Death Valley crowd at Clemson. Since then, the Terps — excluding their 2008 Humanitarian Bowl victory — have made eight trips without a win.

On Saturday, Maryland (2-0) will try to end that streak when it faces No. 21 West Virginia (2-0). As they did at Clemson, the Terps will be trying to compel that sweetest of sounds on the road — no sound at all.

"I like away games better than home games. I like it when the fans are against you," said starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson, a redshirt junior whose best game to date — last season against Florida State — was on the road. "I like to silence the crowd," he said.

If Robinson enjoys competition with fans, he will be in the right place Saturday. Fans at West Virginia's Milan Puskar Stadium (capacity: 63,000) are known for passion, noise and rowdiness — a reputation coach Bill Stewart poked fun at during a media session Tuesday.

"We've really cleaned up," Stewart said, according to a transcript of the session. "We're the neatest, tidiest, most courteous fans out there. Our fans will not get rambunctious, will not rock the bus like the old days and they will be very cordial. It's a great place to play when you're from here and a tough place to play when you're not. I love our fans dearly. I love our faithful. I'm looking right at you: Don't ever, ever change."

In College Park, Maryland pumped in crowd noise through loudspeakers and practiced using hand signals all week to prepare. Among the songs heard by passersby at the practice fields was "Take me Home, Country Roads."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen — a favorite target for Mountaineer fans' barbs — said the Terps habitually play West Virginia's unofficial theme song leading up to a game with the Mountaineers, as if to acclimate themselves. Friedgen, 63, said the song is played even though most of his players are too young to be familiar with John Denver, the songwriter.

Stadium noise might sound like a generalized din to fans, but players often say they can hear individual remarks and heckling on the road.

"Sometimes on the sideline, you can hear different things — some things can be very explicit," senior safety Antwine Perez said. "Coming out of the tunnels, you can hear fans yelling and screaming."

Said Robinson: "You can hear the ones that want to be heard. They wait until they quietest moments."

Players are instructed by coaches not to get into shouting matches with fans.

"The big thing is focus," Friedgen said when asked this week about winning games in challenging venues such as West Virginia's. "I thought last year, at the end of the year, we were a lot closer to that than we were in the beginning of the year, and a lot of that is credited to maturity. Being able to concentrate on the things that are important is key."

Maryland, which has lost four games in a row to the Mountaineers, last played in Morgantown in 2006. While Wujciak and fellow linebacker Adrian Moten remember that loss, the younger Terps do not.

"I've never been there in my whole life," said redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien, who is expected to again split time with Robinson at quarterback against Stewart's 3-3-5 defense that shut out Coastal Carolina in the season opener.

"If we can get up early and quiet them down, it will help out a lot," O'Brien said.

Coaches say O'Brien possesses unusual poise for a redshirt freshman — an attribute that could serve him well in Morgantown.

O'Brien had three touchdown passes in Maryland's 62-3 win over Morgan State after botching a handoff that led to a fumble against Navy the previous week. Coaches said O'Brien was not loud enough with his signal call, and his teammates couldn't hear him.

The Mountaineers, undefeated at home last season, came from 15 points behind in the fourth quarter last week to win at Marshall, 24-21, in overtime. Sophomore quarterback Geno Smith led late scoring drives of 96 and 98 yards.

"Unfortunately for us, I thought he came of age in the fourth quarter," Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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