- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2005

The Maryland football team’s first extended rest since the beginning of camp probably couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

After a six-week sprint through the first half of their schedule, the Terrapins (4-2) don’t play again until a nationally televised meeting with No.3 Virginia Tech on Oct.20. In the interim, Maryland hopes to take advantage of the time off without losing any of the energy of its three-game winning streak.

“It’s in the middle of the season and we’ve been going for a long time,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said yesterday. “My only concern is we’re practicing well and playing pretty well. I really don’t want to lose that sharpness. But the more I’m a head coach, the more I think it’s better off to back off than pile on, which is against my nature.”

The Terps will face a lighter-than-usual practice schedule entering a Thursday night game. After reviewing film and lifting weights today, the Terps will take two days off while assistant coaches go recruiting. Practice will resume Thursday, a day later than in past seasons.

Once the players return, Friedgen plans to spend two short practices addressing problems the Terps consistently have faced before beginning the usual gameweek preparations on Saturday.

“We have a little bit of time to rest our bodies and we have a few days off,” senior tailback Mario Merrills said. “It’ll be nice to get us sharp mentally.”

Precision will no doubt be a priority leading up to the Virginia Tech game, especially after Saturday’s sometimes lackluster 38-7 victory against Temple in Philadelphia. With steady rain, a small crowd and the winless Owls all contributing to a lifeless atmosphere, the Terps bumbled through the first quarter and needed more than 24 minutes to take the lead.

The Terps’ last five opponents — all ACC teams — are unlikely to prove nearly as forgiving as Temple. Three are ranked teams (Virginia Tech, No.4 Florida State and No.14 Boston College), and the other two (North Carolina and N.C. State) will play host to the Terps in November.

“This is a good time to re-evaluate where we’re at and make some adjustments if we need to,” quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. “I think we believe in ourselves. I think that confidence is really something we’re really picking up on a little bit.”

A winning streak will do that for a team, especially one after a pair of early season home losses. The Terps’ improvement in the last three weeks — the early sputters against Temple aside — has come in all facets of the game and has produced hope the team could do more than simply reach a bowl game.

Hollenbach has endured only one mediocre outing and continues to show a grasp of a complex offense without repeating the same mistakes. The Terps’ muddled backfield has settled firmly into a committee, with someone — Merrills, Lance Ball or Keon Lattimore — enjoying a good game in each of the Terps’ wins but none emerging as a No.1 back. The offensive line has improved despite some missteps Saturday, and the receivers arguably have been the team’s most consistent unit.

The Terps forced four turnovers against Temple, doubling their season total. Maryland played without linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (leg) Saturday, but Friedgen said yesterday he should return to practice no later than Friday. Reserve defensive tackle Dre Moore, who sprained an ankle in warmups Saturday, also is expected to return in time for the Virginia Tech game.

“With the circumstances that were given to us, I feel good being 4-2 right now,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “You just [have to] make every opportunity out of every game coming up, and that’s what we’ve done so far.”

Keeping that up won’t be easy, especially with two top-five teams awaiting the Terps later this month. The rest probably will help some aching bodies, but it’s overall effect likely won’t be determined until Maryland marches deeper into its schedule.

“What I think is so important is the kids’ mental frame of mind and that they come back hungry to play football,” Friedgen said. “You don’t want them tired going into the second half of the season.”

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