Familiar feeling for Terps as they prepare for Florida State

Maryland hopes to avoid repeat of 2008 game vs. Seminoles, when similar stakes were on the line

November 19, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Maryland was nearing the end of its 2-10 season a year ago when a fan asked coach Ralph Friedgen why more Terps games weren't being televised.

"To be honest with you, we've got to win more games," the coach replied.

A year later, Friedgen and the fan both got their wishes. Maryland (7-3, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has more than tripled its win total from last year. Its game against Florida State (7-3, 5-2 ACC) Saturday night to try to remain in its ACC divisional race will be televised by ABC in prime time.

It's not just the TV exposure that has returned. It's the "big game" feel that players and coaches crave.

Maryland said last week that it was anticipating a crowd of between 45,000 and 47,000 on Saturday, including an expected capacity student crowd of 10,000.

That's not what it used to be — Friedgen's teams averaged 49,187 through the 2008 season — but it would be the largest home crowd this season.

"This is one of the bigger games we've had here in recent years," said Friedgen, whose Terps stunned No. 5 Florida State with a 20-17 win at Byrd Stadium in 2004.

Maryland has designated it as a "blackout" game, which means fans are being encouraged to wear black. The Terps will wear black and desert camouflage uniforms to mark not only the blackout game, but also the school's ongoing participation with the Wounded Warrior Project. The project provides services for injured military service members and their families.

"There's definitely a buzz going now," senior linebacker Alex Wujciak said of the buildup to the game. "Obviously coming off 2-10, everyone starts hearing about how well we're doing now and everyone wants to come to the games. As the season went on, there's been more and more fans."

This is Maryland's biggest game since the last time the Seminoles visited in 2008.

The circumstances surrounding that game were remarkably similar to this one. The Terps had the same conference mark of 4-2. It was a blackout game and a night game. Like this year, it was the second-to-last regular-season game.

Maryland hopes the similarities end there. The Seminoles pressured the quarterback and forced costly Maryland turnovers, pulling out a 37-3 win over the Terps. When it was over, Maryland players, who punctuate victories by leaping into the student section, walked slowly to the tunnel. By then, the student section had emptied out.

"Basically the same thing was on the line [two seasons ago]," said Maryland safety Antwine Perez, a senior. "We came out flat. This year, we want to come out attacking."

Receiver-returner Torrey Smith, who was a redshirt freshman in 2008, said it's not fair to compare those Terps with this year's players.

"Some of our starters now weren't even on the team then. This Maryland team has never lost to Florida State," Smith said.

Among the differences between the 2008 and 2010 teams are turnovers. Maryland lost four turnovers against the Seminoles two years ago. This season's Terps lead the ACC in turnover margin at plus-13.

"We're a much different team than two years ago or even last year," linebacker Adrian Moten said.

Another difference is quarterback. Maryland's Danny O'Brien, a redshirt freshman, is 5-2 as a starter and ranks fourth in the ACC in passing efficiency. Friedgen said he is not concerned about starting a first-year passer in a big game. "He's just kind of a cool guy," the coach said.

For Florida State, senior quarterback Christian Ponder — fourth in career passing yards at the school — is expected to be ready after recovering from an elbow injury.

Friedgen and the players liken their situation to the NCAA basketball tournament: One loss and the Terps are out of contention for the Atlantic Division crown. Maryland's final regular-season game is at home against North Carolina State on Nov. 27.

The ACC title game will pit the Atlantic winner against the Coastal Division winner on Dec. 4 in Charlotte, N.C. Virginia Tech (6-0 ACC) leads the Coastal with Miami second at 5-2.

"We're kind of treating [Saturday's game] like a quarterfinal game," O'Brien said. "If we can win out — one game at a time for two weeks — we're in the title game."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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