- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 4, 2004

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is nervous again. He doesn’t know what to expect when the No.22 Terrapins meet Northern Illinois tonight.

Friedgen knows Maryland won’t underestimate Northern Illinois after last year’s 20-13 overtime upset by the Huskies. But that’s about all Friedgen can confirm. The Terps have a new quarterback and right side of the offensive line. Most of the defensive line is battered, and the secondary sports three newcomers.

Maryland will be a 141/2-point favorite before a sellout crowd of 51,500 at Byrd Stadium. But for the Terps to have a fourth straight 10-win season under Friedgen, Maryland probably must beat an opponent that’s no longer a nonconference patsy.

“I have more [butterflies] this year than before my first game [in 2001],” Friedgen said. “I really don’t know how this team is going to react because it’s so young. … Some of them are going to be very good. The problem is that they’re not ready — they’re not mature enough.”

The Terps sense they could be good in time. The early schedule could result in a 6-0 start but is followed by a severe four-game stretch. The question is whether quarterback Joel Statham and six other new offensive starters can mature without an upset loss.

Maryland needs a clean victory after blowing a late lead last year to Northern Illinois because of a penalty. Referees worked several recent practices, but Friedgen still expects mental mistakes tonight.

“It’s just a matter of staying patient and not panicking,” he said. “I know that when the adrenaline starts we’re going to make mistakes because they are reacting and not thinking. I just hope they don’t cost us.”

This game is more personal than the usual nonconference opener. The Terps remember the controversial end zone call in overtime last year that cost them the game. The Huskies call it the “Immaculate Deflection.” Maryland wants redemption in the rematch. Northern Illinois seeks additional respect.

“It’s a sore spot,” Terps receiver Rich Parson said. “Last year a lot of guys didn’t show up. That won’t be a problem this year. I don’t know if we think about it as revenge as much as we want a chance to get back on that stage and show what we can do.”

Added Huskies receiver Dan Sheldon: “A lot of times when you beat a team one time, people call it a fluke, but if you beat them a second time it’s hard to characterize it as a fluke. Does it bother me? I suppose a little bit. We’ve been fighting for respect for years.”

Several Huskies spoke of guarding against overconfidence. Northern Illinois also beat Alabama and Iowa State last year but didn’t reach a bowl even though they finished 10-2 and were ranked as high as 12th after a 7-0 start. The Huskies aren’t part of the BCS, so they must win the Mid-American Conference title for a postseason bid.

That makes defeating Maryland less important than beating conference rivals.

“I would bet Ralph Friedgen would trade a victory over us for a victory over Florida State,” Huskies coach Joe Novak said, “and we’d trade a victory over Maryland for a victory over Toledo.”

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