Friday, October 22, 2004

Maryland’s hopes for a fourth straight bowl bid could end today even though nearly half of the season remains.

The Terrapins (3-3, 1-2 ACC) have lost two straight and must play three ranked teams after today’s meeting with Clemson (2-4, 1-3) in Death Valley.

“I told them the situation — we dug a hole,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “What are we going to do about it? We could win all five [remaining games], or we could lose all five. That hasn’t changed. If we don’t play better, the latter is probably the case. I’d be surprised if that happened.”

Maryland has combined for just 10 points and 172 yards in its last two games, losses to Georgia Tech and N.C. State. However, quarterback Joel Statham appeared much sharper during midweek practices and could regain the form that helped the Terps start 3-1. A better outing from Statham could be even more imperative because backup Jordan Steffy might be unavailable after missing practice Thursday with an undisclosed injury.

Friedgen said Statham must regain his confidence, but the rest of a team not accustomed to losing in the middle of the season could use some as well. Maryland recovered from poor starts the last two years but didn’t face a late-season slate like the upcoming one.

After today, Maryland will play No.5 Florida State, No.14 Virginia and No.23 Virginia Tech before finishing with Wake Forest.

“A win would give us all the confidence in the world going into the next few games,” defensive end Kevin Eli said. “It would jump-start the team.”

Said safety Ray Custis: “When you’re 3-3 right now, you’re kind of confused. But it’s growing pains. I saw a lot of hurt in people’s eyes [after losing to N.C. State 13-3 last week]. A lot of people were confused. They were worried about what the rest of the season will be like.”

It’s either going to be competitive under a revived offense or going to continue a steady slide toward Friedgen’s first losing season. The entire offensive line is battered, leaving Statham and Steffy vulnerable to blitzes and limiting the running game.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s now or never,” center Kyle Schmitt said. “Maybe getting away from home will help us.”

But Death Valley isn’t a friendly venue for visitors. The Terps have taken three straight from the Tigers, including a 30-12 victory at Clemson in 2002 when fog obscured the upper deck at Memorial Stadium. But with a noon start today, the crowd likely will be a greater factor this time.

“They like to say West Virginia and N.C. State are the loudest, but Clemson is the loudest,” receiver Steve Suter said. “We were up 14 points down there last time, and they were still loud.”

The team with the most rushing yards has won 12 straight in the series. The Terps figure to rely heavily on running backs Josh Allen and Sammy Maldonado, while the Tigers have no dominant runner.

The Terps rarely stray from the passing game, but a scheme change is possible because of the recent quarterback struggles.

“We still have to do both,” Friedgen said, “But it would take a load off the quarterbacks if we could run more.”

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said Friedgen has been too successful for the offense not to regain its effectiveness.

“Every coach at some time is going to come across the type of obstacle,” Bowden said. “But if you could hire one guy in the country to fix your offense, he would be that guy.”

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