- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien figures the Terrapins have reached midseason in great shape. Four straight wins have bolstered the Terps’ chances for a major bowl bid and return to the polls.

“We’re right where we want to be,” McBrien said. “Things didn’t go our way at the beginning of the season, but we’re right where we want to be. We’re in the same position as last year and all of our goals are still there.”

Maryland (4-2, 1-1 ACC) may re-enter the Associated Press Top 25 soon for the first time since falling from No.15 after losing its opener. The Terps’ 0-2 start doesn’t look as bad given the fast start by No.16 Northern Illinois (5-0) and No.5 Florida State (5-0).

Maryland plays three of its next four games at Byrd Stadium beginning with Duke (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday. The Terps could have a seven-game winning streak before season-ending showdowns against No.24 Virginia (4-1, 3-0) and at N.C. State (3-3, 1-2) and Wake Forest (3-2, 1-1), respectively.

“If we’re going to continue to win, we have to play better offensively,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We have to turn it up and get better defense and special teams. … If we could put it all together we could be a pretty good football team. We did it against West Virginia and second half against Eastern Michigan.”

The Terps finally regained their confidence. The defense has blossomed despite permitting Clemson 320 yards passing in Saturday’s 21-7 victory. That performance dropped it to 12th overall nationally. The offense finally has found balance with McBrien steadily improving. Special teams have been sharp.

“We surprise each other every week,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “The offense gets better. The defense gets better.”

The defense again is leading the Terps after injuries have slowed down the offense. Maryland’s veteran secondary has six interceptions and allowed six touchdowns, with only two scores permitted in the last four games.

Maryland’s steady improvement largely has come up front as the run defense checked Clemson to 10 yards on 29 carries, including minus 14 yards in the first half. Clemson even chose to pass on a fourth-and-1 after it was stuffed on an earlier fourth-and-1 run.

“To have negative rushing yards is unbelievable,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said, “and to have a team on fourth-and-1 pass the ball is also unbelievable. You can’t say how much respect they have for us to do that. It’s the respect our defense is starting to get and we deserve it.”

Said Jackson: “I get pumped on those fourth and shorts. That tests our heart.”

The Terps also have found a downfield playmaker — Derrick Fenner — to complement receivers Latrez Harrison and Steve Suter. Fenner scored on a 69-yard touchdown catch against Clemson and had a 58-yard reception at Eastern Michigan on Sept.27. Given Harrison suffered a mild concussion against Clemson and Suter’s playing with a torn knee meniscus, the Terps need alternate receivers. Maryland even threw six passes toward tight end Jeff Dugan as it tried to offset Clemson’s eight-man fronts.

Maryland still is struggling to run inside, partly because guards Lamar Bryant and C.J. Brooks and offensive tackle Eric Dumas have nagging injuries. Running back Josh Allen (402 yards, five touchdowns) has been steady, but the Terps still thrive on Bruce Perry (186, two TDs) controlling the tempo when he is healthy. Perry still is bothered by a high ankle sprain, but showed improvement against Clemson after having his ankle retaped at halftime. The Terps also get back running back Sam Maldonado tomorrow after a two-game suspension for violating team rules.

Perhaps most surprising has been punter Adam Podlesh, who’s averaging 45 yards with three inside Clemson’s 15. Friedgen feared the freshman would struggle early, but Podlesh has been remarkably steady.

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