- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

Call Maryland’s ACC opener against Duke today a “feel good” game for the Terrapins.

After all, the conference doormat Blue Devils have one of the nation’s worst offenses (No.114) and don’t rank among the top 85 in any offensive or defensive category. It is difficult not to feel good about a game against Duke, especially when it gives Terrapins’ quarterback Joel Statham a chance to shrug off his three-interception performance in last week’s overtime loss at West Virginia.

And it would be nice to get a positive feeling around the Terps today at Wallace Wade Stadium because coach Ralph Friedgen has been angry, bitter and frustrated since the 19-16 loss to West Virginia, the team’s first defeat in 11 months.

“One of the worst things to do is be around him after a loss,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said.

Friedgen spent the week stoking competitive fires. He opened practices yelling, “Are you hungry? Are you hungry? Then let’s get to work.” It didn’t matter that Duke has had only one winning season (1994) since coach Steve Spurrier left for Florida in 1989.

Maryland (2-1, 0-0) gets an opportunity to rout a weak opponent before taking a week off and then entering a difficult four-game stretch: Georgia Tech, N.C. State, at Clemson and Florida State. Today could be the last time Friedgen has a chance to play backups extensively or experiment.

“We’re into the ACC now, and they’re going to come at us hot,” he said. “If we go down there sleepwalking, we’re going to end up 2-2 and then I will not be very happy.”

And the Maryland players don’t want to see that again.

The Terps didn’t bang quite as hard or often during midweek practices in order to recover from a West Virginia game that Friedgen likened to “a street fight in a foreign land,” but it was still an intense week. Players did punishing up/downs that turn legs to rubber, there was some trash talking in drills and the team started to regain its edge.

“We stepped up our intensity,” offensive tackle Lou Lombardo said. “We want to go out there and continue to win. West Virginia gave us a reality check that there are teams out there that if we bring anything other than our best we’re not going to win.”

Said center Kyle Schmitt: “I think the guys came back with more desire this week. There’s definitely a little more of an attitude.”

This already has been a strange season. The Terps opened against three non-conference teams for the first time since 2000. The Terps have developed a strong rivalry with West Virginia, but Maryland was eager for ACC play.

“It has felt strange being with all these other teams and not playing ACC games,” offensive tackle Stephon Heyer said. “These other games matter in the polls but don’t have any weight in the ACC.”

The Terps need to develop offensive consistency. Statham has been shaky in two of three games, prompting Friedgen to shield him from interviews. The slow start isn’t unexpected for a sophomore with little experience, but Statham has admitted feeling pressure.

Part of Statham’s problem has been receivers and tight ends who have not run routes perfectly, resulting in interceptions and ugly incompletions. The pass protection has been better than expected but not perfect and the running game was spotty following a shoulder injury to back Josh Allen in the opener.

But any resurgence depends on Statham. Either he quits forcing plays and fumbling, which led to five turnovers against West Virginia, or the Terps could finish with their worst record in Friedgen’s four-year tenure.

“I’ll feel better when we stop turning the ball over,” Friedgen said. “We have to stop that. We can’t continue and have a chance to win. One of the things I stress is playing without error.”

If the Terps struggle against Duke, no one around College Park will feel good during the off week.

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