- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

Maryland reaches the midpoint of its football season against Clemson today still uncertain whether it’s a budding powerhouse or an underachieving major bowl seeker.

The Terrapins (3-2) have routed The Citadel 61-0 and West Virginia 34-7 during their current three-game winning streak. However, Maryland stumbled past Eastern Michigan 37-13 last week in a game that saw the nation’s worst running attack regularly knock the Terps’ defensive line backward. Maryland also blew a late lead in a 20-13 overtime loss at Northern Illinois and was overwhelmed by Florida State 35-10.

Players concede they haven’t fulfilled their potential after entering the season ranked No.15, Maryland’s highest preseason perch since 1985. The defense still hasn’t recovered a fumble despite being No.9 overall nationally. The offense remains plagued by spotty deep passing and inside blocking.

“I’m tested more with this team,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “This team has to experience things. They have to make mistakes in order to get better. They’re not going to learn things just in the classroom or watching tape. They have to physically go through them.”

Mostly, Maryland is still learning to handle high expectations. After 21 wins, an ACC title and a Peach Bowl victory in Friedgen’s first two seasons, the Terps haven’t dealt with success well. They were unmotivated as 34-point favorites at Eastern Michigan before a sparse crowd and needed a second-half run to put away the Eagles.

Now the Terps begin a run of seven ACC games that ends against Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest to likely decide the bowl pecking order. Maryland needs an improved effort to beat Clemson (3-1), which is why returner Steve Suter is delaying knee surgery until Monday to play. The Terps have spent the week trying to motivate themselves.

“We’ll play big-time ACC schools, so I don’t think we’ll have any more problems like that,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “You can feel the intensity in practices that we’re excited to play in the games that are really important to us.”

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said his Tigers are hungrier after losing both previous meetings to Friedgen teams following an eight-game winning streak against Maryland.

“In years past, Maryland has been the hungrier team than us,” Bowden said. “Now the role is reversed. They’ve got the bulls-eye on them, and I’m anxious to see how we respond.”

Countered Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien: “Our intensity has risen a little bit. I think we’re still hungry. We haven’t even hit our peak yet. We usually don’t do that until [late season].”

Still, Friedgen isn’t making Clemson (3-1) a season-defining game. However, a solid victory would continue the Terps’ rise to credibility after their 0-2 start.

“I told the team 4-2 with momentum is better than 3-3 and having to start over again, so it’s an important game,” he said. “Whether it defines your season, everybody wants to make one game ‘that game,’ but I don’t know if there’s such a game. Depending on how you play, that defines your game.”

The third straight sellout crowd may recall the late-season 2001 meeting at Byrd Stadium, when Maryland’s 37-20 victory clinched a tie for the ACC championship. Certainly, several Tigers remember how the Terps crowd tossed oranges at them. Friedgen expects another playoff atmosphere today.

“It’s going to be what we’ve all dreamed of at Maryland in the kind of excitement the crowd brings to it,” he said.

Maryland regains running back Bruce Perry, who again seems past his high ankle sprain. Josh Allen will start, but Perry gives the Terps depth inside. Running back Sam Maldonado is expected to return Oct.11 against Duke from his two-game suspension for violating team rules.

Suter also appeared sharp during practice Thursday despite his impending surgery on a torn meniscus. Suter figures to miss two weeks, but wanted to play in the expected close game. Suter said he may delay surgery if the knee doesn’t worsen against Clemson, but he doesn’t want to risk missing late-season games.

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