Friedgen's final year with Terps offered plenty to remember

Danny O'Brien's play helped the Terps go from 2-10 to 8-4, but others contributed along the way

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

COLLEGE PARK — A few weeks ago, Maryland players had late-season visions of returning to the Champs Sports Bowl. The Terps and their fans had savored a trip to the Florida game in 2006, beating Purdue.

As cold weather descended on campus, players couldn't help but imagine Orlando weather. And Disney World.

With their head coach's future now uncertain, though, the disappointment of being passed over by the Champs Sports Bowl is a distant memory. They're unsure of who will even coach them when the Terps conclude their season with a contest against East Carolina on Dec. 29 in the Military Bowl at Washington's RFK Stadium.

Those players helped orchestrate a turnaround season in which Maryland went 8-4 (5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference).

The Terps' improvement from 2-10 in 2009 was surpassed only by Miami (Ohio), which went from 1-11 to 8-4 this season.

"We ended up 8-4 and there are not many 8-4 teams in the country," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, before his coaching career was thrown into chaos late last week. "We are going to play in a bowl game. We are happy where we are at and we are going to make the best of it and play a very quality opponent."

If, in fact, 2010 was Friedgen's last year as the head coach of the Terps, he'll have plenty to remember. Here is a look back:

Biggest Irony: After the 2-10 season in which he didn't get along with athletic director Debbie Yow, Friedgen was named 2010 ACC coach of the year and the Terps knocked Yow's new team — N.C. State — from a berth in the conference title game. Then, Yow's Wolfpack earned the Champs bowl bid that Maryland coveted. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Best Maryland game: Maryland's turnaround season wouldn't have been complete without the 38-31 victory over No. 21 N.C. State that finally answered the question: "What really good team have the Terps defeated?" Maryland's most memorable contests were the first (Navy) and the last (N.C. State). Receiver Torrey Smith (14 catches, including a school-record four touchdown receptions) and quarterback Danny O'Brien played "pitch and catch" against the N.C. State defense.

Worst Maryland game: Is this any way to restart a rivalry? Maryland renewed its series with West Virginia and lost its poise in a 31-17 loss in Morgantown, W.Va. The flustered Terps opened the game by committing four penalties in a drive that sent them retreating toward their own goal line.

Best Maryland play (tie): Linebacker Adrian Moten jumped over a Navy blocker and delivered a jarring hit on Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs near Maryland's goal line. Dobbs fumbled, and Maryland recovered in its 17-14, season-opening victory. "I don't know if I've seen a play this year that was as incredible as the leap," defensive coordinator Don Brown said. "It was the timing of it — how he wasn't offside." Does anybody remember the LaVar (Arrington) Leap at Penn State? This was The Leap II.

Also: In the same game, safety Kenny Tate slammed into Dobbs before the quarterback could cross the goal line on fourth-and-1. Maryland ran out the clock to end a seven-game losing streak that the team had carried over from the previous season like an unpaid debt.

Worst Maryland play: Freshman Miami quarterback Stephen Morris — subbing for an injured Jacory Harris — lofted a perfectly-thrown, 35-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson over cornerback Dexter McDougle with 37 seconds left to lift the Hurricanes to a 26-20 victory. A Maryland win in this game would have changed the bowl picture.

Cruelest Misfortune: Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown took off around left end against Morgan State and showed impressive quickness on a 12-yard run. But he broke his collarbone on the tackle and was out for the season. It was the first play of his college career.

Later, Maryland endured two more season-ending injuries (offensive lineman Pete DeSouza and McDougle) from motor-scooter accidents. The accidents prompted Friedgen to write to Terps parents about the dangers posed by the vehicles.

Best Double Duty: Senior Travis Baltz had previously been an all-ACC punter. This season, he was more. Pressed into duty as a field goal kicker, he converted on 13 of 16 attempts. He also punted 64 times for a 42.0 yard average.

Most valuable player: Friedgen, a former offensive lineman, is fond of saying that senior Paul Pinegar, a former walk-on, was the team's MVP for his ability to shift positions along the line when the Terps became depleted by injuries. But the coach knows that everything changed once O'Brien, the redshirt freshman, took over at quarterback. O'Brien, who shares his coach's disgust of turnovers, threw 21 touchdowns and only six picks in starting nine games. He said he was proudest at not throwing a single interception in the team's five conference wins. He was the ACC's rookie of the year.

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