COLLEGE PARK — — A year ago, Maryland won its opening Atlantic Coast Conference game. Then the Terps dropped the rest of their league games, skidding to the worst record for a Ralph Friedgen-coached team.
This season, Maryland again won its initial ACC contest after four nonconference games. That's where the Terrapins desperately hope the similarity to last year ends.
After losing to Clemson to drop to 1-1 in the conference, Maryland is determined to distinguish itself from last season's team. It could do so quickly with a win Saturday at Boston College that Maryland nose tackle A.J. Francis says is vital if the Terps are to keep their season on course.
"It is a must-win," Francis said in an interview Tuesday in the Gossett Football Team House. "We have to get this road-loss monkey off our back. We have to go to 2-1 in the ACC. If we don't win this game, we won't be the team we set out to be."
It might sound odd to label Maryland-Boston College a big game. After all, the Terps (4-2, 1-1) have barely begun their ACC schedule. Boston College (2-4, 0-3) is winless in the conference.
But this is the reality facing Maryland. The Terps know they must establish themselves and draw a clean line between this season and last.
Boston College is last in the Atlantic Division. The next opponent, Wake Forest, is next-to-last with a 1-3 conference mark.
Both winnable games loom large if Maryland is to realize its goal of returning to a bowl game.
"It's a pretty important game," said cornerback Cameron Chism, who, like other Terps, expressed frustration at the team's repeated failures on the road.
Maryland has lost 10 games in a row on the road, dating to September 2008.
"That's our big task now, is to win on the road," said Friedgen, who made similar statements before losses this season at West Virginia and Clemson. "It's never easy to win on the road. The more mature your team is, the easier it is. It's about time we started maturing and grow up and do that."
Friedgen has acknowledged some frustration of late. Maryland committed 10 penalties for 93 yards at Clemson on Saturday. That, along with special-teams breakdowns, was a big reason the Terps lost, 31-7, despite outgaining the Tigers in yardage 350-213.
Friedgen briefly became emotional during Tuesday's media availability, pausing to compose himself when talking about how difficult last season was.
"I'm pulling for these guys," Friedgen said. "I want to see them be successful. I guess maybe I want it so much for them it frustrates me sometimes."
Maryland's run game has been absent in this season's road defeats. The Terps ran for negative yardage against West Virginia and had 44rushing yards against Clemson.
The combination of getting behind early and not establishing the run means defenses can load up against the passer. Redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien had career highs against Clemson in completions (24) and attempts (45), but he also threw the first three interceptions of his career against a heavy pass rush.
"I think it's important to win close games -- and to win any football game -- you've got to be able to run the ball and be balanced," O'Brien said. "Obviously when you get down late, I was trying to make a few things happen and forced a few balls I probably shouldn't have."
Running back Davin Meggett had eight carries for 29 yards against Clemson. He got only two of those carries in the second half.
"Nobody likes to be really forced to pass it," Meggett said. Friedgen said the Terps had to all but abandon the run after falling behind 24-7 in the third quarter.
Part of Maryland's problems came on the offensive line, which surrendered three sacks to Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. Among those victimized was right tackle Pete DeSouza, who is starting because of a season-ending injury to Justin Gilbert.
"I'm not down on him at all," Friedgen said of DeSouza. "The kid [Bowers] had some sacks, but they were not all against Pete."
Francis said Maryland needs to learn how to overcome challenges that present themselves away from Byrd Stadium.
The redshirt sophomore said a Clemson player had "a blatant hold of my face mask" on a 40-yard run-and-catch Saturday by Tigers running back Jamie Harper. There was no penalty call.
That sort of thing, Francis said, can happen when you're on the road.