- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

Welcome to the real season.

Three nonconference foes, ACC doormat Duke and a bye week are finally past. Now No.23 Maryland (3-1, 1-0 ACC) begins learning what its postseason chances truly are today against Georgia Tech (2-2, 1-2) at Byrd Stadium.

The Terrapins get few breathers over the final seven games. Between road trips to Clemson, Virginia and Virginia Tech, plus a home date with Florida State, the end of the season promises to be an extremely tough stretch. Maryland needs to beat Georgia Tech and visiting N.C. State next week to reach 5-1 before facing the heavyweights. Otherwise, a fourth straight winning season and bowl trip might be in doubt.

“This is a very big game in our season,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I still think [Maryland] has a lot of potential. I think we’re older now than what we were. We’re a lot better than when we started. I think we have a little more confidence, but I still don’t think we’re playing as well as we’re capable. I think we need to improve each week. If we don’t, we won’t have a good season.”

Georgia Tech is the emotional bump needed for the coming grind. The Yellow Jackets’ 7-3 upset last season knocked the Terps from a BCS bowl and share of the conference crown. Frustration over Maryland’s only loss in the final 11 games still lingers. There are plenty of conference rivalries, but this has become one of the bitterest.

“They embarrassed us on offense last year, so we’re looking to turn it around,” center Kyle Schmitt said. “It was the worst game we played. We’re eliminating each other to be in the ACC championship. If you lose these games you’re fighting to be in [any] bowl game.”

Embarrassed was a term used commonly by players and coaches all week. Georgia Tech knocked out Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien in the second quarter and blitzed backup Joel Statham relentlessly. The Terps managed only a field goal in their second worst scoring effort of Friedgen’s four-year tenure.

The Terps offensive line is readying for Yellow Jackets defensive end Eric Henderson, one of the ACC’s top pass rushers and the man who inflicted a concussion on McBrien. Georgia Tech figures to repeat the pressure. The offensive line’s left side is among the conference elite while the right side is still emerging. This could be the season’s defining test.

“They embarrassed us last year,” Friedgen said. “It was the most the quarterback got hit at any time. We better be ready to play or it’s going to happen again.”

Statham showed Friedgen he wasn’t intimidated by Georgia Tech’s pass rush that night despite fumbling to set up the winning score. Friedgen continues to back Statham heartily this year amid criticism. Statham leads the ACC in passing yards per game but also has thrown seven interceptions and has eight fumbles.

“[Statham’s toughness against Georgia Tech] was the thing that showed us Joel had what it took to be a good quarterback,” Friedgen said. “I still believe that. He’ll be a lot better prepared than last time. I see him progressing.”

Maryland’s defense regularly has neutralized opposing offenses with mobile quarterbacks and breakaway running backs, and Georgia Tech’s Reggie Ball and running back P.J. Daniels are another formidable pair. Ball completed just 12 of 28 for 98 yards against Maryland last year while Daniels gained only 46 yards on 16 carries.

“We have to limit how many yards those two guys can go,” defensive tackle Henry Scott said. “If we can concentrate on the run, it will make our job a lot easier.”

It’s the first non-Thursday meeting between the teams since Friedgen’s 2001 arrival. Maryland’s 20-17 overtime victory in 2001 keyed the Terps’ recent run of success.

The game is not as personal anymore for Friedgen, though. The former offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech now sees few players remaining from his final season there in 2000.

“I’ll have friends there the rest of my life,” Friedgen said. “Georgia Tech will always be a special place for me, but we play Saturday on the turf and it will be competitive. As the years go on, it’s not quite the same as when I was first there. They don’t know me and I don’t know them, so it’s not the same as it used to be.”

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