He has taken his team to a movie during camp, and he has ordered the offense to perform up-downs after each severe miscue in practice. He has pointed out future possibilities after losses, and he has harped on his team’s turnover woes like a broken record.
It’s more than halfway through the season, and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has tried nearly every trick in his repertoire to help the Terrapins overcome their many mistakes and try to salvage something of a year fast slipping away.
The latest attempt? A truly back-to-basics angle, forged from frustration and perhaps a hint of desperation.
“Maybe we just need to go out and relax and play and have a good time and let it go,” Friedgen said. “Maybe that’s the way to approach this whole thing. Can’t do any worse than what we’ve been doing. So to me, let’s get after people, have a good time and enjoy the day.”
There’s no telling if applying Occam’s razor to a reeling team will cure the Terrapins (2-5, 1-2 ACC), who visit Duke (3-3, 1-1) on Saturday. But there’s little doubt the largest task in front of Maryland is turning around the turnover leviathan so prevalent this season.
Like Friedgen’s latest philosophical shift, the Terps’ turnover troubles are anything but complicated. At minus-13 for the season, Maryland ranks 118th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in turnover margin. Opponents have outscored the Terps by 76 points, including a whopping 71-10 margin on possessions following turnovers.
That won’t soothe anyone’s nerves - and nerves were present from the start. Many of the problems of the opening loss at California were attributed to Maryland’s inexperience.
Seven weeks later, Friedgen believes the Terps’ youth is a factor in their tense play. Whether it’s something Maryland should have grown out of by now is one argument, but a more pressing discussion is the need to do so immediately.
“I think we should have been playing relaxed the whole season,” linebacker Adrian Moten said. “Even some of the young guys, even though they hadn’t played in a college football game, they still should have been playing relaxed. I think that’s the biggest thing. … Everybody has butterflies coming out, but if we’d played relaxed throughout the whole season, I think we probably would have won more games.”
It just hasn’t worked out that way.
A surefire way to stifle - and at times, rattle - a team is to yield easy points to the opposition. Few teams do that better than Maryland, which has surrendered three defensive touchdowns and has ceded 11 scores while its offense was on the field since it last had its own defensive score 40 games ago.
“You’re just sitting there on the sidelines sometimes going crazy,” fullback Cory Jackson said. “Even the Rutgers one that got picked and run back, sometimes you feel like you’re in a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. This isn’t supposed to happen. Things like this normally don’t happen to teams. I think we’re getting better and we’re going to grow.”
If it isn’t easy on the players, it’s just as difficult on their coach. Friedgen is part of Maryland’s first 2-5 team since 1988, and the consistent calamities befalling his outfit - the latest a 20-9 loss to Virginia that hinged on a tipped interception the Cavaliers brought back for a touchdown - have started to wear on him.
“I’m getting to the point where if I’m watching tape of somebody else and they fumble, this electric shock shoots up my back,” Friedgen said. “When they threw the interception for the touchdown, I just screamed out loud, ‘Nooooooo!’ You laugh. It ain’t damn funny. It kills me. Why can’t we tip a ball and have it fall into our defensive guy’s hands? Why can’t that happen for us? When’s it going to change?”
Perhaps a little calm would help. But that trait is more likely to arrive after a few victories, and those are missing in College Park this fall. That means the Terps might need to learn some on-field relaxation on their own, the only obvious solution being more trial-and-error experience on Saturdays.