- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

Maryland’s inexperienced football team knows an upset of 19th-ranked Virginia today at Byrd Stadium would give it some momentum and improve its chance of landing a bowl bid.

“This is a real big game for us,” senior linebacker William Kershaw said. “If we win, we’re up in the clouds.”

And if the Terps (2-2, 1-1 ACC) lose, they will have little margin for error in the second half of the season. After next week’s visit to winless Temple, Maryland must face No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 6 Florida State before finishing with North Carolina, No. 21 Boston College and N.C. State.

Some wiggle room late in the season could be useful, although the youthful Terps probably will mature into a more consistent team as the year progresses. A victory over a ranked team today might provide a boost for the final six games.

“I like the direction we’re going,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I like our attitude and the way we’re working. With the exception of one or two kids, everybody is really busting their butt. I think they do sense this is a very big game.”

It’s also important for Virginia, one of two unbeaten teams left in the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Cavaliers (3-0, 1-0) struggled to put away Western Michigan and needed a last-second field goal to win at Syracuse, but they remain a physically imposing team.

Though Virginia doesn’t have the same power rushing capabilities it did a year ago, it still features a mammoth offensive line. All the listed starters are at least 6-foot-5, and they can create holes for rushers Michael Johnson, Cedric Peerman and veteran Wali Lundy. Lundy figures to play more today after injuries limited him to 13 rushes during the first three games.

“They have a great offensive line,” Maryland senior linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “They just try to flat-out pound you with those big guys.”

Maryland struggled to contain the run in its first three games but limited Wake Forest to 111 yards on the ground in last week’s 22-12 victory. A repeat performance might force Virginia to rely on elusive quarterback Marques Hagans’ passing ability, something the Cavaliers have used effectively in the season’s first month.

Meanwhile, the Terps must figure out how to establish a running game against a defense that is surrendering just 91 yards rushing a game. Friedgen said senior Mario Merrills and sophomores Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore again will split carries depending on which personnel group is on the field, even after Lattimore’s 76-yard performance against Wake Forest.

Of greater concern to Friedgen is his team’s inability to convert third-down opportunities, especially those of 3 yards or less. Maryland ranks last in the ACC in third-down efficiency at 23.4 percent (11-for-47), including just 20 percent (5-for-25) during the last two games. Those problems have been exacerbated inside the 20, where the Terps came away with one touchdown in five tries last week.

“We have to get better execution and we’ll be fine,” Friedgen said. “The plays are there for the most part, I would say 85 percent of the time. We have a chance to be successful.”

The way success is usually defined is — at the very least — a trip to a bowl game. Maryland missed the postseason last season, when a 16-0 November loss to the Cavaliers helped doom the Terps to a 5-6 record.

That game still bothers the Terps, who surrendered 295 yards rushing while managing a meager 214 yards of total offense. It was also the fifth straight time the home team won in the series, a trend the Terps would like to continue today.

“We don’t want a repeat of last year,” right guard Andrew Crummey said. “We want to be a dominant program again. Beating Virginia is a big part of that.”

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