- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The running back was supposed to tilt his shoulders slightly to one side to throw the defense off balance. Instead, he simply plowed straight into the line for no gain, a minor technique breakdown that undermined the play.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen found the flaw, one of many little missteps that led to a 5-6 record in 2004, while watching game film in the offseason. The losing record wasn’t a result of Friedgen’s offense becoming predictable, he surmised. It was the Terrapins’ laziness, particularly the coaching staff, that brought about their demise.

Maryland will open against Navy on Saturday with inexperience rampant throughout most of its units. The quarterback has one career start, which is one more than the running backs. Three of the offensive linemen will be making their first starts, and none has a full season’s experience. The best receivers might be freshmen.

Still, there is optimism the Terps can rebound. A focus on fundamentals could help the offense return to the juggernaut that led Maryland to 31 wins in Friedgen’s first three seasons.

“It was the smallest things, going back to scratch,” offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “We started with the basics — that everyone was clear on the smallest detail. It’s tough to do when you have this big of a playbook. The amount of details we’ve hammered out are a lot.”

Friedgen returned to the teachings of his mentor, Bobby Ross, reviewing the playbook from page one. The coaches thought the mundane task wasn’t needed last year after three seasons as a staff but found that slight differences had evolved.

“I got lazy,” Friedgen said. “I usually don’t care what people think, but I feel redundant when I start the whole thing over again. What I learned was sometimes people forget things or think it was this way or that way.

“I give a lot of freedom to [assistant] coaches because there’s many ways to do things, but there are certain principles for the play to be successful. We had a couple things we assumed we were all on the same page. It’s just good to go back and refresh and look at teaching techniques and doing what we say we’re doing. If we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, is it working?”

Joel Statham’s rampant turnovers often were blamed for the offensive woes last year, but Friedgen knew the quarterback, now benched, wasn’t the entire problem. Receivers failed to run crisp routes, the interior blocking sometimes broke down and tight ends missed assignments.

The Terps again will use a fullback after removing the position last season, and quarterback Sam Hollenbach, whose rise during summer camp was the Terps’ highlight, will become the starter. Maryland wants to be a ball-control, run-oriented offense, though the passing game certainly will emerge.

“We’ve always been able to run the football,” Taaffe said. “Last year, we struggled, so we went back and looked at it. People get familiar with what you’re doing. It’s always good to research yourself. Just because you’ve always done it that way is not a good answer.”

The playbook — 1,200 pages of schemes used by “Air Coryell” in the 1970s, Ohio State in the 1950s and even Sammy Baugh at Texas Christian in the 1930s — was supposed to get smaller. Instead, it grew by a few pages. Hollenbach proved to be more than a conservative choice, and the speed of the freshmen receivers made plays downfield possible during summer workouts. Friedgen loves to fool defenses, but the Terps’ success probably will be determined by their ability to execute the basic run formations.

“The trick of this whole thing is to be as complicated as you can to defend but as simple as you can to execute,” Friedgen said. “Find that happy medium. You’re better off with fewer good plays than a lot of bad ones.”

Friedgen also tried to reconnect with his players by returning to the weight room and locker room. He felt like he spent too much time fund-raising in past offseasons and thought the team’s chemistry needed to improve. He even scrapped some lenient practices, such as letting certain players skip breakfast. Now the Terps are on lockdown.

“I’m tough on them,” Friedgen said. “They don’t always like me at times. … You can’t always say please and thank you. Sometimes you have to drive them and find ways to motivate them. You have to keep pushing them because if you don’t, they won’t do it. If I don’t make them go to class they’re not going to. They’re not. They go to class more than the regular students go to class.”

Is it enough for Maryland to return to the ACC’s elite? Friedgen sees the same temperament that he had on his first team, which was picked eighth in the league but won the ACC championship.

“They want to make amends for last year,” he said. “Not going to a bowl game didn’t really hit them until they saw everybody else playing in the bowls. That’s where they wanted to be. I don’t think there’s any question that we’re more motivated.”

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