- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

Maryland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson approached coach Ralph Friedgen this week to discuss alleviating the Terps’ practice load.

The weather is colder, the days are shorter and the players are simply tired after grinding through practice after practice for three months.

“It’s that time of year,” said Friedgen, who obliged his star’s request.

It’s also the point where most teams decide their postseason fates, and the Terps (5-4, 3-3 ACC) are no different. Maryland’s bowl possibilities remain convoluted, only adding to the justifiably cluttered minds Jackson and his teammates have entering today’s meeting with No.23 Boston College, Maryland’s final game this season at Byrd Stadium.

Can the Terps clinch a winning season, a feat that would simultaneously relieve almost any pressure on the team for its season finale next week and all but end the ceaseless queries the team has endured since last season’s 5-6 disappointment? Will Maryland regain a homefield advantage at Byrd, where it has lost as many games this year (three) as it did in Friedgen’s first four years combined? Can quarterback Sam Hollenbach and his separated collarbone hold up against a rapacious Boston College pass rush? And can Maryland’s defense be physical enough to handle an offensive line whose starters average 6-foot-6 and 316 pounds, the largest the Terps have faced this season?

With so many questions, it’s no surprise the Terps are well aware of the certainty of bowl eligibility that awaits them should they win one of their final two games.

“The only thing that matters this week is to get that sixth win,” Hollenbach said.

That won’t be simple against the Eagles (7-3, 4-3), the physical newcomers to the conference who can clinch a share of the Atlantic Division title with a victory. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who missed two games after suffering a right knee injury against Virginia, had 31/2 sacks last week against N.C. State and figures to challenge young tackles Jared Gaither and Brandon Nixon today.

Keeping Kiwanuka and the rest of the Eagles defensive line away from Hollenbach will be a priority. The junior spent much of last week’s 33-30 overtime victory at North Carolina evading defenders or taking hits, but he still threw for a career-high 374 yards. With his collarbone still sore, Hollenbach could use a less hectic day in the pocket.

“What we have to do is be on the same page in our protection,” Hollenbach said. “BC has a very complicated defense. They’re playing some looks we haven’t really seen this season yet.”

The Maryland defense will have its own issues. Boston College’s offense is anything but flashy, but sophomore quarterback Matt Ryan is capable of shredding secondaries, a concern since cornerbacks Josh Wilson (concussion) and Isaiah Gardner (groin) have had little or no contact this week but are almost certain to play. If the Eagles can build a lead, they’ll just rely on a rushing attack behind their brawny line.

“It’s not going to be a question of where they’re going, it’s whether you can stop them,” Friedgen said. “It’s going to be a blood and guts game.”

A loss probably would knock the Terps out of contention for one of the ACC’s top bowl tie-ins and could damage their bowl chances even if they win at N.C. State next week. The conference is guaranteed only six bowl spots, and with seven teams already eligible, a 6-5 team could get left at home.

That’s not a welcome prospect to the Terps, especially their 14 seniors who will play their final game at Byrd today. That group has many fond memories of the stadium, though few have come of late. The Terps are 1-3 at home this season, yet they still have a chance to become only the second team in program history (along with the 1936 squad) to have a winning season despite a losing record at home.

“I think we owe it to our fans that when they come out here to Byrd Stadium — especially this being the last time this season — we owe them a victory, we owe them a better showing,” safety Milton Harris said.

Maryland would also like to give a better showing to representatives from the Peach Bowl (third choice of ACC teams) and Champs Sports Bowl (fourth choice), who will scout today’s game.

The Terps would be appealing to both bowls if they upend a ranked team as part of a late-season surge.

“This sets up a lot of things for us,” Friedgen said. “If we can get this game, we can get some momentum. It [would] make a statement nationally that this team is improving.”

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