- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Georgia Tech has always been good to Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. There was a national championship during his nine years as an assistant there. The Terrapins’ 2001 overtime victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium launched their revival under Friedgen.

But Friedgen has no mixed feelings about tonight’s nationally televised road game. The Terps (5-2, 2-1 ACC) face four bowl contenders in the final five games, and a week off has Maryland eager to resume a five-game winning streak. Friedgen conceded there are “undertones” to the game while playing Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” during practice Monday.

“[Georgia Techs] not going to be real nice to me, and I don’t plan on being nice to them either,” Friedgen said. “Every year you leave, it gets a little less [familiar]. It was very emotional for me [in 2001] because I knew all those kids and I was going against my best friend [Georgia Tech coach] George O’Leary. It was a weird situation. As elated as I was for our team [winning], I felt some compassion for the other team — but I won’t feel that way anymore.”

Maryland returns to national prime time tonight in what is becoming an ESPN Thursday night tradition. It’s the third straight year and sixth time since 1995 that the teams have met on the cable network on a Thursday. Maryland hopes the exposure will return it to the polls for the first time since losing to Northern Illinois on Aug.28 after being ranked No.15 in the preseason.

“This is big, especially for the polls,” offensive tackle Eric Dumas said. “The rest of the country will see we’re not a one- or two-year wonder.”

Said quarterback Scott McBrien: “It’s definitely an exciting time with the whole nation watching. It’s a big month [for us] with a loaded schedule.”

Maryland is only a 21/2-point favorite over Georgia Tech, perhaps its most evenly matched opponent this season. The Terps’ 20-17 overtime win against the Yellow Jackets in 2001 was their lowest-scoring victory during Friedgen’s tenure, but the dramatic win’s impact still ripples through the program. It was Maryland’s first triumph over a ranked opponent during an opening 7-0 run en route to the ACC championship and an Orange Bowl appearance.

“It gave us the confidence at that time that we could win those games,” Friedgen said. “Back then, I don’t think we had that. Our expectations as a football team and a program weren’t as high as now. … It used to be people were happy if we won no matter how we played. Now we get style points.”

The Terps need an improved effort considering some of their lackluster wins. Maryland struggled past Eastern Michigan (37-13) and Duke (33-20) during the streak despite the lopsided final margins. Sweeping its last five games would at least make Maryland the ACC runner-up, with a Gator Bowl berth likely if Florida State (6-1, 5-0) doesn’t falter.

“This is a very important game in our season,” Friedgen said. “We’ll know where we’re at as a team and whether we still have a shot at [the ACC title]. This is definitely a different team. I think in a lot of respects, it has more potential than the [last] two teams. I don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet.”

Both teams took last week off to get ready for the meeting. The Terps seemed to practice well after returning from their first four-day break since camp opened Aug.4, and Friedgen felt the team’s improved health offset any possible loss of momentum.

“When you’re on a winning streak, you don’t like things to change,” he said, “but we really needed a break.”

Maryland will start running back Bruce Perry against a Georgia Tech team (4-3, 2-2) that sports the ACC’s second-leading run defense and ranks 19th nationally. The Yellow Jackets held four of seven opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Friedgen rated Perry “85 percent” healthy as he starts only his second game since suffering a high ankle sprain in camp.

“Bruce makes plays normal running backs don’t make,” guard Lamar Bryant said. “It gives you confidence we can run the ball. If the running game is clicking, then the whole offense is clicking. He makes everybody feel confident in the offense.”

Friedgen also praised McBrien for his best week of practice in three seasons at Maryland. McBrien has steadily improved after a poor start, including a season-best 18 of 32 for 232 yards against Duke on Oct.11 and three touchdowns against Clemson on Oct.4.

“Hopefully, it will transfer into the game,” McBrien said. “I’m hitting the timing routes right now. I feel very comfortable.”

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