- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

Maryland’s football team will get an early preview of next season in its finale against Wake Forest next Saturday at Byrd Stadium. After all, this one is essentially done.

Maryland (4-6, 2-5 ACC) ensured its first losing season since coach Ralph Friedgen’s arrival in 2001 with a humbling 55-6 loss to No.15 Virginia Tech on Thursday night. The Hokies (8-2, 5-1) didn’t score in the fourth quarter and only once offensively in the second half or Maryland’s worst defeat ever — 76-0 by Navy in 1913 — conceivably could have been eclipsed.

Friedgen will consider playing reserves extensively against Wake Forest. Fourth-string quarterback Sam Hollenbach might start. A number of younger running backs and offensive linemen should gain more snaps. Friedgen will weigh giving seniors one last hurrah against using younger players who will return.

“We’re trying to find somebody that will give us a spark offensively,” Friedgen said yesterday. “What do we have to do to win the football game? If the seniors are going to help us win, then we’ll play the seniors.”

Friedgen hasn’t suffered a losing season since 1988, when he was an assistant at Georgia Tech. He won 31 games and two bowls in his first three seasons at Maryland, but the current string of five losses in six games will force an overhaul.

However, Friedgen won’t walk away despite postgame comments Thursday of leaving if Maryland doesn’t turn around next year.

“I’ve never quit anything in my life,” Friedgen said. “I was embarrassed, frustrated, mad. I was a lot of things. It was just something that came out. I’m in this for the long haul.

“I knew it was going to be a hard [season]. I didn’t think it would be this hard. I thought our quarterbacks would develop further. I thought we’d have a winning record and go to a bowl. To be beaten like we were [by Virginia Tech] was tough to take.”

The Terps suffered a complete meltdown against the Hokies. Five turnovers led to 24 Virginia Tech points, including a swift 14-0 in the first four minutes. Even a defense that hadn’t allowed more than 17 points by starters this season was overwhelmed. Weeks of narrow defeats suddenly gave way to a wave of poor play.

“It’s very important for our players to understand, especially our young players, what it’s going to take to be a competitive team in this league right now,” Friedgen said. “When they start to complain practices are too hard or work too hard, look around. There’s other people working just as hard, if not harder than they are. I think I know what it takes to win. I’m going to go back to being myself and stop worrying about what they think.”

The Terps’ quarterback troubles seem no more resolved than before the season. Joel Statham was benched twice against Virginia Tech and threw three interceptions. He even bumped into running back Josh Allen on an exchange, a huge mistake this late in the season. Statham’s future appears murky with the Terps.

Backup quarterback Jordan Steffy becomes the front-runner looking ahead to spring workouts, but he’s questionable against Wake Forest after suffering a concussion against Virginia Tech. Third-stringer Ryan Mitch didn’t travel to the team’s last two games because of what Friedgen termed a private matter. Mitch briefly quit the team over the summer and may not return.

Hollenbach, who seemed destined to become a tight end after throwing one pass this season before Thursday’s game, is the probable starter against Wake Forest. Hollenbach fell behind Statham during spring practice and was fourth after summer workouts. However, he was a respectable five of eight for 53 yards in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech while leading one scoring drive.

“Overall, I thought he showed a lot of poise and hung in there,” Friedgen said. “I was pleased and proud.”

The rest of the offense will undergo major changes by next season. Allen lost three yards on three carries against Virginia Tech before Friedgen went with underclassmen Mario Merrills, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore extensively for the first time this year. Friedgen said Allen’s career gives him an edge over younger rivals next year, but the reserves will continue to see more time against Wake Forest.

Maryland also will spend the offseason looking for freshman receivers to revitalized an underperforming unit. Derrick Fenner and Steve Suter, who combined for 13 catches against Virginia Tech, will graduate.

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