- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

In the 161 years since the founding of The Citadel, aka the Military Academy of South Carolina, probably nobody has been happier to see a school delegation arrive than Ralph Friedgen will be Saturday evening at Byrd Stadium.

The delegation, of course, will be the school’s reputed football team, which is much less than a power even in lesser Division I-AA circles. More about that in a minute.

After a totally unexpected loss to Northern Illinois and a totally expected loss to Florida State, Friedgen’s Maryland Twerps — sorry, I mean Terps — need a victory worse than Alan Trammell. And they should get one this week without resorting to desperate measures or even the hoary flea-flicker.

I don’t want to insult The Citadel, which is a beautiful school in the beautiful city of Charleston, S.C., but the Bulldogs might be underdogs to the Little Sisters of the Poor if they played. Heck, maybe even to the LSP junior varsity.

At The Citadel, football is a word even dirtier than “surrender.” Over 96 seasons of pigskin pursuits, the Bulldogs have cut a narrow swath. Back in 1992, when current Maryland offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe was head man, The Citadel somehow finished 11-2 against possibly deceased opposition. Since then, the school has experienced only two winning seasons in 10 years, the last in ‘97, with an overall mark of 39-73 for the decade. Against ACC outfits overall, The Citadel is a glittering 6-55-2.

Current coach Ellis Johnson, who licked Hodgkin’s disease a decade ago when he was an assistant coach with Alabama’s national champions, is operating at the other end of the football scale these days. His first two seasons at The Citadel produced familiar records of 3-7 and 3-9. In the Bulldogs’ first game this season, they undoubtedly stunned their fans with a 64-10 beating of Charleston Southern, which may or may not have been a junior high team. Last Saturday things were back to normal: The Citadel marched on Delaware and lost to a team with the nickname of Blue Hens.

So should we assume Friedgen is down on his knees giving thanks for the Bulldogs’ impending visit? Probably not, because football coaches take nothing and nobody for granted (though their players sometimes do).

If the late Jerry Claiborne were still coaching at Maryland, he might be busy this week making The Citadel sound like Miami or Oklahoma. Friedgen didn’t do that yesterday at his weekly media luncheon, but he knows the Terps should win Saturday. Should is a dangerous word, however. Maryland should have beaten Northern Illinois, too. Anyway, the Fridge is rightly much more concerned with his own team than the guys on the other side of the field.

“We’ve played hard but not very well,” he said. “I think we’re pressing because we’ve practiced better than we’ve played right now. We’re better than we’ve shown.”

When the Terps assembled for practice Monday, Friedgen said, some of the troops might have expected him to rant and rave, rend his garments and gnash his teeth. He didn’t. Unlike last month, when he seemed worried that too many players believed that No.15 preseason ranking, this is a time for reinforcement, something on the order of I know you guys can do it. Just go out and play your game and you’ll be all right.

“Our kids never had to live with these kinds of expectations before,” said Friedgen, who created the problem by going 21-5 his first two seasons.

No matter how well the Terps rally — and they responded to a similarly sickly start last season by winning eight straight — they aren’t going to go to a BCS bowl or challenge for a national championship this time around. But neither are they going to play all season like one of the depressingly ordinary outfits turned out in the ‘90s by Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden. Those days are gone forever in Terptown or for as long as Friedgen hangs around his alma mater.

Besides, he said, “I’ve gotta get my voice ready to sing my song,” meaning the Maryland victory tune in which he leads his players after every home victory. Nobody has confused the Fridge with Sinatra, but there have been no complaints from the paying customers.

“I’m not down on this team,” he insisted, actually smiling. “We’ll get it right.”

Toward that noble end, The Citadel certainly is the right opponent. Welcome to town, guys. Take off those hot military uniforms and rest awhile — preferably for 60 minutes or so on the Byrd Stadium greensward.

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