The checklist of ways for Maryland’s football team to improve its fortunes after September is nearly as long as a depth chart.
Eliminate turnovers. Quit committing foolish penalties. Tackle better. Execute with greater precision.
In going back to the drawing board, the Terrapins (1-3) are going back to basics - even if there is some pain involved.
And coach Ralph Friedgen, frazzled with his team’s minus-10 turnover margin, has come up with a new plan. There are fewer plays per practice period but no tolerance of miscues. Especially giveaways for a team that has yielded 13 of them during a disastrous September.
“We’re going to do something to recognize the turnovers, whether it’s up-downs or whatever,” Friedgen said Tuesday. “[Monday] night we had one turnover. I think we have to make a conscious effort to not do this. To me, we work on technique for carrying the ball. We work on where to throw the ball. I think it has to be something that we avoid at all costs.”
The Terps have not to date. Maryland already is more than halfway to last year’s 13-game turnover total of 25. They’ve been costly, leading to 61 of the 153 points allowed this season.
Those would seem worthy of more than a little admonishment. Certainly, it provides some validation for Friedgen’s new tactic as Maryland prepares for a visit from Clemson (2-2, 1-1 ACC) on Saturday.
“I thought that was a good idea,” center Phil Costa said. “It makes everybody accountable if one guy turns the ball over. That’s how it is in the game.”
The turnovers have come in all varieties. Fumbles on kickoff and punt returns. Interceptions brought back for touchdowns. A ball squirting free on routine carries. Failed shovel passes in the end zone. Tipped or batted passes landing in a defender’s hands.
No matter the way, they’ve aided in destroying Maryland’s opening month. And while Friedgen expressed mild bewilderment that the Terps were within a possession of Rutgers in the middle of the fourth quarter in Saturday’s loss - “You turn the ball over five times, normally you get beat by 50 points,” he said - he also seemed intent on prioritizing miscues more than ever.
“You do what you have to do,” defensive tackle Travis Ivey said. “You don’t want to do up-downs, so I think it puts it in their mind, and I think that’s what he’s trying to get accomplished. It’s not really the up-down factor. I think it’s that he really wants them to think about it and ingrain it in them [that] we can’t have turnovers. Using that as a tool, I think it’ll work. We’ll see next week.”
Whatever the approach, Friedgen acknowledged digging out of this hole “starts with me.” Maryland leaves September with a losing record for the first time since 1997, and some scrutiny has started to fall on Friedgen.
“Obviously when you’re 1-3, you’re not going to say you did a great job,” Friedgen said when asked to evaluate his performance. “I have no problem looking myself in the mirror. I put everything I had into this. I didn’t work any less. I really don’t think I’m any less of a coach than what I’ve always been. If you write a bad article, are you a bad writer? You have your good days and your bad days, too, don’t you? I’m not asking you that question.”
Ultimately, Friedgen isn’t at fault for split-second decisions and an inability to maintain possession on a carry. But those are the problems responsible for the Terps’ predicament, with every up-down a reminder of what must change for Maryland to have a chance to salvage its season.
“There are things that are correctable,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “Everything else will come along if we can just get those things fixed.”