The Washington Times - October 4, 2009, 11:48AM

No one – not even Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen – tried to make an argument that his decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches yesterday from the Terps 29 in the fourth quarter was a good idea.

Why would they? In retrospect, it wasn’t, since quarterback Chris Turner was stuffed and Clemson took over.

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But oddly enough, while sitting five floors up in Tyser Tower as Friedgen waffled between the safe route of punting and the risky play of going for it, rolling the dice in such an unconventional way seemed like a pretty cool thing to do.

Not entirely in a “here-and-now” way of thinking, which is pretty much the way coaches usually think. There was severe risk, especially considering Maryland was without its starting left tackle and tailback, which were pretty good reasons to punt it away.

Friedgen’s players wanted him to go for it. Offensive coordinator James Franklin wanted to go for it. And deep down, as Friedgen wryly noted, fans probably wanted him to go for it, too.

“I do stuff like that on Madden all the time,” wide receiver Torrey Smith. “It can go either way. We get that, and we’re walking down the field with a little more energy and the crowd’s still in the game. Our defense was playing well, we believed if anything they could hold them to a field goal.”

But there are some sensible reasons to buck the safety of conventional wisdom and risk field position with a three-point lead with the season’s direction potentially hanging in the balance. (In the spirit of full disclosure, today’s dead-tree edition gamer would have been almost entirely about that single call if Maryland had lost.)

1. A show of faith. Friedgen has said over and over how much he believes in his team. Well, there probably isn’t a better way to demonstrate that in action than going for it in that situation. Maybe there’s a bit of a psychological bump long-term for the Terrapins’ offense as a result of Friedgen’s sign of faith near the end-game.

2. The defense was playing well. Sure, it had been on the field for 58 plays already. But Maryland’s defense was playing well, having allowed 75 yards on 26 plays over the previous six possessions. Given that sort of play, a coach could realistically believe a misfire would cost a maximum of three points.

3. Why punt it to C.J. Spiller? To build off the point on defense, the risk of giving Spiller the chance to do more damage in the open field was at least as scary as handing Kyle Parker three downs and the ball at the Maryland 30. Spiller, by the way, touched the ball three times on the Tigers’ last three possessions, gaining four yards.

4. A first-down shortens the game. This is a bit of a stretch, but Maryland was probably looking at paring two minutes off the clock if it could get four inches. That’s a tantalizing trade near the end-game.

5. Playing to win. One of the most common fan criticisms of Friedgen in recent years in recent years is his offense is too conservative.

Friedgen took heat for attempting a field goal on fourth-and-3 against Middle Tennessee when a first down would have iced the game. Granted, that was at the other end of the field, but he took the conventional route and wound up losing anyway.

Since the start of the 2005 season, Maryland has attempted to convert 69 fourth downs over 55 games. I went ahead and did a breakdown of the attempts done more than 60 yards from the end zone (inside the Terp 40) and those done in the second half when Maryland is leading, tied or trailing by eight points or less.

Yesterday was the first time in those 4 1/2 seasons that Maryland went for it inside its 40 with a lead.

It was also only the 10th time in that span the Terps attempted a fourth down while leading in the second half. Four of the others were in blowout victories, and a fifth was a successful attempt to effectively clinch a victory.

Go ahead and peruse those charts below. But there could be no doubt Friedgen was playing for a victory rather than clutching his rosary and hoping the Terps had done enough in the first 50 minutes to warrant a win.

INSIDE OWN 40

2005, Down 35-27 at Florida State, 4th-and-2, Maryland 40, Statham-Weatherly 7 yards (Led to DOWNS)
2005, Down 20-7 at N.C. State, 4th-and-16, Maryland 40, Hollenbach-Walker 32 yards (Led to TD)
2007, Down 20-3 vs. Clemson, 4th-and-1, Maryland 29, Henderson 12 run on fake punt (Led to PUNT)
2009, Down 52-13 at California, 4th-and-1, Maryland 29, Green 4 run (Led to GAME)
2009, Up 24-21 vs. Clemson, 4th-and-1, Maryland 29, Turner stuffed

SECOND HALF, LEADING/TIED/WITHIN EIGHT

2005, Down 20-15, 4th-and-8, Navy 31, Hollenbach-Ball 20 yards (Led to TD)
2005, Up 17-14, 4th-and-2, Clemson 31, Hollenbach-Gronkowski 25 yards (Led to TD)
2005, Down 7-3, 4th-and-6, West Virginia 35, Hollenbach-Walker 10 yards (Led to FG)
2005, Up 31-7, 4th-and-1, Temple 10, Statham 1 run (Led to TD)
2005, Up 38-7, 4th-and-19, Temple 31, Statham incomplete
2005, Down 35-27 at Florida State, 4th-and-2, Maryland 40, Statham-Weatherly 7 yards (Led to DOWNS)
2005, Down 35-27, 4th-and-5, Florida State 38, Statham sacked

2006, Down 27-23, 4th-and-2, Georgia Tech 41, Hollenbach intercepted
2006, Down 27-23, 4th-and-G, Georgia Tech 19, Hollenbach sacked
2006, Up 26-20, 4th-and-22, Maryland 44, Hollenbach game-ending kneel down
2006, Down 12-10, 4th-and-1, Clemson 45, Hollenbach 5 run (Led to FG)
2006, Up 24-7, 4th-and-1, Purdue 32, Hollenbach 3 run (Led to GAME)

2007, Up 10-7, 4th-and-1, Villanova 42, Steffy 2 run (Led to TD)
2007, Down 31-24, 4th-and-18, Wake 33, Steffy sacked (OT ends)
2007, Up 27-24, 4th-and-1, Rutgers 35, Lattimore stuffed
2007, Down 16-13, 4th-and-2, North Carolina 41, Turner incomplete
2007, Down 21-13, 4th-and-4, Florida State 36, Turner screen pass incomplete

2008, Up 7-0, 4th-and-18, Delaware 32, Steffy intercepted at Delaware 2
2008, Up 14-7, 4th-and-1, Delaware 29, Turner 2 run (Led to GAME)
2008, Down 15-14, 4th-and-5, North Carolina 32, Turner 9 run (Led to FG)
2008, Down 21-14, 4th-and-1, Boston College 43, Turner-Oquendo 8 yards (Led to MISS FG)

2009, Down 35-28, 4th-and-4, James Madison 47, Turner-Tyler 20 yards (Led to TD)
2009, Down 20-13, 4th-and-3, Rutgers 49, Turner incomplete
2009, Up 24-21 vs. Clemson, 4th-and-1, Maryland 29, Turner stuffed

Patrick Stevens