Terps aren't looking past Florida International

Maryland hopes to avoid embarrassment against another Sun Belt Conference team

September 24, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coaches picked up on an important trait about Florida International in watching video leading to Saturday's meeting with the Panthers at Byrd Stadium.

FIU's linebackers and safeties are adept at following the opposing passer's eyes and movements — what the coaches call "clueing the quarterback."

FIU — from the Sun Belt Conference — has parlayed that skill into forcing turnovers. Through two games the Panthers have five interceptions, tied for ninth in the country. They have also recovered three fumbles.

Maryland (2-1) knows FIU is 0-2 as the Panthers play the second of three straight road games against BCS conference schools. But the favored Terps — eager to rebound from last week's 31-17 loss at West Virginia — also know that turnovers can be the great equalizer.

"They're a high-pressure defense. They load the box up," Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said. "They've been very effective. You look at them defensively, and against Texas A&M it's 20-6 [in FIU's favor] in the fourth quarter and they've got the game pretty well handled. We have a lot of respect for them. They're going to be a challenge."

FIU fell at Texas A&M, 27-20. But the Panthers intercepted Texas A&M senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson, the Big 12's preseason offensive player of the year, four times and sacked him six times.

FIU lost, 19-14, to Rutgers the week before.

"You always want to get the victory. That's at the forefront," FIU coach Mario Cristobal, a former Miami and Rutgers assistant, said in his weekly media conference posted on a school's website. "But what we all see in our football team is a team that is legitimately getting closer to becoming very solid, much improved and a legitimate, Division I football team."

The Terrapins — who lost to Sun Belt Conference member Middle Tennessee State in 2008 and 2009 — are eager for a win after a painful game against the Mountaineers in which Maryland trailed 28-0 in the third quarter. "It's very important for us to re-establish some momentum," coach Ralph Friedgen said.

As difficult as it was for Terps backers to watch the team tumble in Morgantown, losing at home to FIU might be worse because it would signal a "here we go again" feeling among fans that Maryland is anxious to avoid. The Terps were 2-10 last season and ended the year on a seven-game losing streak that almost cost Friedgen his job.

After FIU, Maryland opens its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule at home against a Duke team that has surrendered an average of 47 points in its first three games.

Maryland was plagued last season by turnovers. The Terps finished tied for 97th in the nation in turnover margin at minus 0.55 per game.

This season, Maryland ranks 16th in the nation in turnover margin at plus 1.33. Starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson has been intercepted twice in three games.

Asked during the week about FIU's propensity for creating turnovers, Friedgen quickly replied that working against such mistakes is "the first thing we do everyday [in practice]. I think we've gotten better at it."

On Saturday, Maryland will try to protect Robinson — backup quarterback Danny O'Brien (high ankle sprain) may also play — without starting left tackle Justin Gilbert, who suffered a torn ACL against the Mountaineers.

The Terps will shift right tackle R.J. Dill to the left side to cover for Gilbert, and move redshirt freshman Pete DeSouza into Dill's former spot.

"You lose a player of Justin's caliber, it's an issue," Maryland offensive line coach Tom Brattan said. "In 2007-2008 we lost both starting guards — Andrew Crummey and Jaimie Thomas — to season-ending injuries and we ended up going to a bowl game. So you've got to rally."

Last season, a smattering of boos echoed around Byrd Stadium as Maryland was stumbling to a 32-31 loss to Middle Tennessee that Franklin said was his worst loss ever. With another Sun Belt team in town, that's not a scene the Terps want repeated.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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