- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

ATLANTA Ralph Friedgen transformed the Maryland Terrapins from also-rans into a Top 25 program in two seasons. Now comes the chance to take the next step on the ladder of their evolution: Win a bowl game.
The Terps have traveled an extraordinary distance in a short time under Friedgen. Maryland posted a miserable 37-73 record with no winning seasons in the 10 years before Friedgen took over as coach in 2001. The Terps are 20-5 since, with an ACC title and, for the first time, back-to-back seasons of at least 10 wins. They ended a decade-long bowl drought last season with a trip to the Orange Bowl.
The 20th-ranked Terps see tonight's meeting with the Tennessee Volunteers in the Peach Bowl as the next step to joining college football's elite programs.
"We have played Florida, Notre Dame and Florida State recently; we keep coming up with these opportunities," said Friedgen, who doesn't have a win over any of the sport's richest programs. "We have another opportunity in front of a national television audience to play a top team in the country. I think, if we're fortunate enough to win, it would not only help our athletes but our program overall and the way we are viewed. It would take us to the next level."
This Tennessee team is not up to the program's usual lofty standards. The Volunteers began the season ranked No.4, but a string of injuries and defeats left them 8-4 and unranked heading into tonight's game at the Georgia Dome. The Vols, who won the national championship in 1998, view this game as a chance to end a down season on an up note.
"For whatever reason, we lost four games," said junior tight end Jason Witten, who is expected to leave early for the NFL draft. "That's not Tennessee football. If we could win against Maryland, because they are a good football team with a good record, it could save our season somewhat."
The Terps (10-3) will face an SEC team in a bowl for a second straight season. Last season, a fast Florida Gators team torched the Terps' secondary and bottled up their offense in a 56-23 rout in the Orange Bowl.
The Vols also are built on speed, particularly on defense. Tennessee doesn't have a high-powered offense behind quarterback Casey Clausen, but it is instead led by a thorny defense that is ranked eighth in the nation, allowing 285.8 yards per game.
The secondary, led by all-SEC defensive backs Rashad Baker and Julian Battle, is fast and physical. The unit likes to bump receivers at the line, and it has the make-up speed to take risks. The Volunteers often load the box to force offenses to pass and leave receivers with one-on-one coverage.
"They'll get right up on you and challenge you to go by them," said Maryland offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, who says the Vols have the best defense the Terps have faced this season. "You have to run some misdirection against them to hopefully take advantage of the speed that is moving one way. That's where the counter plays come in. The thing that we have that a lot of teams they see don't run is the option."
Quarterback Scott McBrien said the Terps need to connect on some deep passes early to limit Tennessee's aggression and give the tailback tandem of Chris Downs (1,113 yards rushing) and Bruce Perry space to run. Perry could be Maryland's top weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Friedgen said Perry, the 2001 ACC Offensive Player of the Year, is fully healthy for the first time this season.
The Terps' defense will have to deal with the loss of starting nose tackle William Shime, who was suspended and sent home for breaking team rules.
"We can move [defensive end] Durrand Roundtree inside and play Scott Smith [at end]," Friedgen said. "We can go to our dime package. We can play [reserve tackles] Tosin Abari or Justin Duffie. There are a lot of different ways we can go. We will probably use all of them."
Tennessee will look to build on momentum from its three-game winning streak over SEC lightweights, including consecutive 24-0 shutouts over Vanderbilt and Kentucky, to finish the regular season.
While the Volunteers are effectively using the game to prepare for next season, the Terps are looking to match the Maryland record of 11 wins in a season, set in 1976. More importantly, Maryland wants its first bowl victory in 17 seasons to be the next building block of a program on the rise.
"We have proven last year wasn't a one-hit wonder," said All-ACC punter Brooks Barnard, a senior who was part of two 5-6 teams before Friedgen's arrival. "We shut the critics up about that. Now, we have to go out and basically win the big game. That's something we haven't proved yet."
Maryland will have to cover the cost of 2,500 of the 3,500 unsold tickets it donated to Atlanta area military and non-profit organizations. The university is only responsible for the amount it purchased over the Peach Bowl mandated allotment of 17,500 tickets. The 2,500 tickets have a face value of $137,500. The ACC will cover the cost of the other 1,000. As of yesterday, Maryland has sold slightly more than 15,000 tickets and some 1,500 were still available.

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