- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

The Maryland football team somberly boarded buses emblazoned with the word “Young” after Saturday’s season-ending loss at N.C. State, an almost too-perfect coincidence for a team stung by inexperience and inopportune mistakes all season.

The 20-14 loss to the Wolfpack encapsulated all of the Terrapins’ faults, problems that surfaced at the worst of times to doom Maryland to its second consecutive 5-6 season. There were turnovers, including four in the finale and 14 in a season-ending 1-4 slide; ill-timed penalties; and bungled chances on offense, all symptoms emblematic of a frustrating year.

“Until we learn how to not beat ourselves we’re not going to be very good,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “No matter how much hard work you put into it, you have to play smart, and you have to be disciplined. You can’t lose your cool. You have to play the game. It’s not about all this talk and all that stuff. It’s about playing football.”

It was only the latest salvo on the subject from Friedgen, who bemoaned the Terps’ self-destructive proclivities throughout the season only to receive little deviation from his charges. But changes are coming to the program, starting with the retirement of defensive coordinator Gary Blackney.

Tight end Vernon Davis could also be on his way to the NFL Draft after catching 51 passes for 871 yards and six touchdowns, all team highs. Davis said Saturday he was not sure whether he would leave and said he would discuss the decision with his family and Friedgen.

Davis wouldn’t be the only notable on-field departure. Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who had 137 tackles and four sacks and provided incalculable leadership, and strong safety Milton Harris and linebacker William Kershaw — the Terps’ Nos. 2 and 3 tacklers — are all seniors. Maryland’s top three wideouts also are seniors, potentially leaving tailback Lance Ball (153 yards) as the Terps’ top returning receiver.

That looming talent drain coupled with the consecutive losing seasons have prompted questions whether the program is in decline after posting at least 10 wins in each of Friedgen’s first three seasons. Friedgen brusquely brushed aside such suggestions in a frequently testy postgame press conference.

“I don’t feel that way at all,” Friedgen said. “I’ve obviously gotten to be a worse coach these last two years, but I don’t feel like that. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I think our program is about ready to take off.”

The Terps’ quarterback situation could be flux after Sam Hollenbach struggled in the final three weeks despite playing through a separated collarbone. Friedgen said he probably will open up competition at the position in the spring, perhaps creating a chance for sophomore Jordan Steffy, who redshirted this season, or erstwhile starter Joel Statham to claim the job.

Hollenbach, who threw 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in his first year as a starter, said Saturday he would consult with doctors this week to discuss whether to have surgery on his collarbone, which was damaged Oct. 20 against Virginia Tech. Despite playing behind an inexperienced offensive line that yielded 21 sacks in the final five games and missing much of one game with injury, Hollenbach still managed 2,521 yards of total offense, the seventh-best total in school history.

The offensive line figures to be better next season because of its oft-painful, on-the-job training, as well as the return of left tackle Stephon Heyer from a knee injury. The entire offensive backfield will be back, as will nearly every defensive lineman.

“We just needed some time to develop,” Davis said. “Bring guys in and let them develop and just get something going. When you’re trying to rebuild, it takes time. It doesn’t happen the next day.”

It seemingly did when Friedgen arrived five years ago and turned a rag-tag bunch coming off back-to-back 5-6 seasons into ACC champions in his first season. That magic touch and the high standards it created could haunt Friedgen as he tries to guide the Terps back to the upper half of the conference. Those leaving the program, though, believe it is possible.

“This program is fine,” Jackson said. “Coach Friedgen is going to work hard. He’s going to get his recruits, and we have a lot of young guys on the team that will be back. They can get this thing going.”

Added senior wideout Jo Jo Walker: “The sky’s the limit. We have great coaches. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe it was meant for us to go 5-6 this year so they can keep working harder and harder. When we do go back to a bowl game and have a 10-win-plus season, everybody’s going to jump back on the bandwagon.”

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