- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said yesterday the No.24 Terrapins must greatly improve over the coming weeks if they hope to earn a fourth straight bowl bid.

The Terps (3-1, 1-0 ACC) have beaten teams with a combined 3-9 mark, including winless Duke (0-4, 0-2) 55-21 on Saturday. When Maryland lost to No.6 West Virginia (4-0) 19-16 in overtime Sept.18, turnovers cost the Terps their first upset of a top-10 team in 14 years.

After overpowering weaker teams, the Terps face comparable and higher-ranked teams, starting with Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-1) on Oct.9.

“We’re going to have to play better than [against] Duke to beat Georgia Tech,” Friedgen said. “If this team continues to improve, we can be a very good football team. If we don’t, if we lose our cohesiveness, lose our energy, our togetherness … we could win them all or lose them all. There is a sense of urgency right now to be successful from here on out. Our young players have to grow up real fast. It will be interesting to see how we do.”

The Terps figure to retool the offense slightly entering their idle week despite 685 yards against Duke, second most since Friedgen’s 2001 arrival. The team will stress fundamentals during three light workouts this week. The coach said the offensive line needs to block better and receivers must run routes more precisely. Friedgen blamed several interceptions on mistakes by receivers.

“Even though we had a tremendous output offensively [at Duke], we weren’t really pleased with how we played,” Friedgen said. “We can play a lot better.”

Quarterback Joel Statham leads the ACC in total offense (248.8 yards) and passing yards a game (226.8) and is second in passing efficiency (140.7). However, the sophomore also has seven interceptions and eight fumbles. He threw three picks against Duke before countering with four touchdown tosses.

“It would tell something at the end of the next seven games if he were to [finish atop the ratings],” Friedgen said. “We’d all be happy.”

Statham is recognizing coverages more quickly and reacting better to busted plays. When running back Josh Allen fell approaching a handoff, Statham immediately ran for six yards. Statham is averaging nearly seven carries a game, which Friedgen sees as a better alternative to forcing passes.

“I’d like to see him, if he doesn’t like something, tuck it and run,” Friedgen said. “Joel is tentative when he runs. As he goes on, he’ll become a better and better runner. It’s not easy. I see him making progress. Is he there yet? No. Is he making progress in the right direction? Yes, he is.”

Running back Sam Maldonado is averaging nearly one yard more a carry than Allen and has emerged as the Terps’ dominant runner. Maldonado has 373 yards and four touchdowns on 68 carries, Allen 311 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries. Allen seems to have recovered from a shoulder injury that bothered him for nearly three games so the two will continue to alternate series.

“We’ll just continue to go back and forth, and whoever has the best game will start,” Friedgen said. “To me, they’re 1 and 1A. Josh will have a burst to run by you, give you a little wiggle, and Sammy will smash by you.”

Notes — Linebacker Eric Lenz (spinal fracture) likely will redshirt this season, while linebacker Jeris Smith (leg) is out indefinitely. Defensive end Kevin Eli (concussion) is expected to play against Georgia Tech after missing one game. Defensive end Shawne Merriman (shoulder) and receiver Dan Melendez (hamstring) are probable. …

Maryland is ranked sixth in the Excellence in Athletics Cup for its combined athletic and academic ratings under a new system by Texas A&M.; Virginia Tech was ranked 35th, Virginia 51st.

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