- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Admittedly Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is a big worrier. And he believes he has good reason for it today against Temple.

Friedgen is concerned the Owls, a 27-1/2-point underdog, might blitz on every play and try to rattle quarterback Joel Statham, who comes off a four-fumble, one-interception performance last week. The coach wonders if Owls quarterback Walter Washington will dance through the Terps patchwork defensive line. And maybe, the coach fears, Maryland might have a letdown after barely beating Northern Illinois 23-20 last week.

OK, enough already. Just stop it, Coach.

The 23rd-ranked Terps (1-0) are 20-1 at Byrd Stadium under Friedgen and there is little chance Temple (0-1), a 30-point loser to Virginia last week, will hand the coach his second loss at home.

“They’re going to throw everything at us,” Friedgen said. “That’s what worries me because we have a young team. They have nothing to lose. We need to be very much into this game. If we don’t execute, it’s going to be ugly.”

Despite its persistent mediocrity under coach Bobby Wallace — he is 17-52 since arriving in 1998 — Temple won’t be a pushover.

One preseason publication rated Washington as the Big East’s best athlete. Washington, coupled with the Owls quick infusion of talent thanks to several junior college transfers, gives Temple’s option offense enough skill players to force defenses to play it honestly. Of course that didn’t seem to help Temple last Saturday in its 44-14 loss to the Cavaliers.

“It’s way too early to get too down on yourself,” Wallace said. “We did move the football against Virginia. We should be able to move the ball against any defense.”

The telling matchup will be Temple’s pass rush against Statham. The Owls blitz eight defenders regularly and the Terps are young on the right side and at tight end so Statham may not have a lot of time to throw. If he doesn’t counter with quick passes, the Terps offense may struggle again.

“It’s going to be another test for a young quarterback and young linemen if they play,” Friedgen said. “It could be real good or real bad when you bring eight.”

Statham is the key to another bowl season for the Terps. The sophomore struggled in his first start, with his turnovers leading to 10 Northern Illinois points. Meanwhile, the Terps’ 23 points were set up mostly by the defense and special teams. It was a shaky start for Statham, but it wasn’t unexpected. He improved in the second half, which gave Friedgen hope the opening-game jitters will pass.

“The biggest thing we can draw from this is he did keep his composure,” Friedgen said. “There’s a lot of kids that wouldn’t want to go back out there again. I never saw that with him. A lot of times they get that deer-in-the-headlights look — where am I? I never saw that.

“We know this is a work in progress. Am I disappointed in the way he played? Not entirely. It’s what I expected. I’m looking for him to be better and more poised this week.”

Statham, who comes from a one stoplight town in rural Georgia, isn’t used to huge crowds, so the 51,000 fans in the stands may have been a jolt. Another sellout is expected for Temple, but he’s getting used to the attention.

“I don’t think [the nervousness] will be gone,” he said, “but I’m sure it won’t be as bad as it was last week.”

Statham wasn’t the only newcomer shaking off nerves. Thirty-six players hadn’t played in a Division I game before and 11 started for the first time. Friedgen hopes for improvement before taking the Terps to West Virginia on Sept.18 for a Gator Bowl rematch.

“After the first game, everybody got their jitters out,” defensive end Shawne Merriman said, “and are now more comfortable in their positions.”

Temple will look to unnerve Statham and blitz him like Georgia Tech did when he replaced an injured Scott McBrien last season. Statham and the offense managed just a field goal, but his two turnovers were costly in the 7-3 loss.

Terps running backs Josh Allen and Sam Maldonado will play with nagging shoulder injuries which could further increase Statham’s load. Quick slants to tight end Vernon Davis, he caught five passes against Northern Illinois, could help Statham beat the blitz.

“If Vernon’s open, I’ll get him the ball,” Statham said.

Said Davis: “It’s a mismatch. Put me up to a linebacker or safety — they can’t check me. I have the speed of a receiver.”

A mismatch? The whole game could be just that. Then again, that type of thinking is what worries Friedgen most.

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