He was tempted, Ralph Friedgen admitted, to drag his bleary-eyed Maryland football team to a 5 a.m. practice after a Thursday night steamrolling at Virginia Tech earlier this month. In his younger days, it could have happened.
Deep down, plenty of his players probably considered it a possibility. Such is the price of being thoroughly dominated.
Yet Friedgen demurred, preferring to let the memory of the loss percolate. After expressing his displeasure when the Terrapins reconvened, he simply delineated the opportunities for the final quarter of the season.
“I think they thought they were going to have the wrath of Ralph,” Friedgen said. “I tried to do things like we’ve been doing them.”
Instead of punitive measures, the biggest change Friedgen made was inviting students to watch a normally closed walkthrough Friday. Rather than repeating their miscues of a week earlier, the Terps edged No. 17 North Carolina 17-15 on Saturday to remain in control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
As for those worries about the wrath of Ralph? Mostly unfounded.
“I think it might have been the case for a second,” linebacker Moise Fokou said. “The way he came out and approached us kind of threw us off-guard. We were pleasantly surprised, I’d say. Once that happened, it was like, ‘They believe in us, and we believe in them, so let’s go out and get this.’”
Maryland re-emerged in the Associated Press poll Sunday at No. 22 after a one-week hiatus. The Terps (7-3, 4-2) can clinch a trip to the Dec. 6 ACC title game with victories in their final two games - or if they upend Florida State on Saturday and Wake Forest defeats Boston College.
It’s a distinct possibility since the fault line on the Terps’ split personality appears to be rooted in an extreme home/road split. Maryland is 6-0 at home, including three victories against ranked teams and a pair of games clinched with late Obi Egekeze field goals.
A 1-3 road record remains a stain. But back at Byrd and with Friedgen sticking to the script, Maryland summoned its usual performance Saturday against the Tar Heels.
“We knew that wasn’t us at V-Tech,” cornerback Jamari McCollough said. “That wasn’t the real Terps. We’re way better than that. I think it helped us that we played at home. This is the best atmosphere to play in.”
Even as Friedgen wondered aloud about whether he is reaching his team, players have noticed a change in their coach. Quarterback Chris Turner credits much of it to the hiring of offensive coordinator James Franklin, a decision that reduced Friedgen’s workload. A coach with increased time at his disposal can handle his remaining responsibilities more effectively as well as maintain an even disposition.
Such is the case for Friedgen, whom Turner said has maintained a steady demeanor all season. As a byproduct, any anger or frustration - real or imagined - carries greater implications.
“He’s been so good all year,” Turner said. “There was a little bit [of anger]. A little bit doesn’t hurt. We probably deserved it. It gave us a little bit of a wake-up call.”
Friedgen insisted Sunday he doesn’t always know whether he’s doing the right thing since there are so many variables to consider. Ultimately, he has found he just needs to trust that the season means as much to the players as it does to him.