- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

It is nearly impossible to think about Maryland’s home football game against third-ranked Virginia Tech tonight without invoking the teams’ meeting a year ago.

It, too, was a nationally televised Thursday night game. And like a year ago, the Terrapins seek to solidify their postseason hopes with an upset of a ranked Hokies squad.

But Maryland wants the comparisons to end right there. The 55-6 loss in Blacksburg a year ago was the nadir of a lost season for the Terps, a humiliation players remain sensitive about.

“Everybody talks about this game and the game last year and how they just dominated us on both sides of the ball,” senior wide receiver Derrick Fenner said. “It really gets to me and is going to make me go out there and even play harder. It’s going to make the team go out there and play harder and the coaches coach harder.”

They’ll have to, since Maryland is welcoming a team Ralph Friedgen describes as the best the Terps (4-2, 2-1 ACC) have faced in his five-year tenure. Virginia Tech (6-0, 3-0) is the only team in the 12-team ACC without a conference loss and has yielded 54 points in six games.

That leaves a daunting task to the Terps, who must overcome an ugly recent past with the Hokies. The numbers from last year are hard to ignore: Five turnovers, 197 total yards, and a 49-point loss, the worst margin of defeat for Maryland under Friedgen.

About the only good thing to come from the rout was the emergence of quarterback Sam Hollenbach, and that was made possible only because the Hokies chased both Joel Statham (ineffectiveness) and Jordan Steffy (injury). Maryland’s teetering bowl hopes vanished as Virginia Tech built a 41-3 halftime lead, leaving plenty of time for the Terps to ponder the blowout even as they tried to contain the Hokies’ reserves.

“You don’t ever want to lose that bad and it’s a long ride home,” junior cornerback Josh Wilson said. “Virginia Tech was a very long ride home for us last year. There wasn’t much sleep that night.”

The Terps would rather not endure another restless evening, so taking care of the ball against an aggressive Hokies defense is a necessity. Hollenbach’s reliable decision-making, a prized attribute in the first half of the season, will never be more valuable than when he faces Virginia Tech’s powerful defensive line and linebacker-sized defensive backs.

The Hokies, usually among the best teams in the country in scoring on turnovers or blocked kicks, lead the nation with five touchdowns on defense and special teams this year.

“This team is like sharks feeding with turnovers,” Friedgen said. “You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win this game.”

The Terps have much to gain from an upset, things more important than payback. Maryland needs only two more victories to clinch bowl eligibility — a priority for a team stuck at home for the holidays last year — and the program could make its first visit to the national rankings in more than a year with a win.

Maryland could also alleviate the hopelessness of its last Thursday night appearance, a miserable experience Friedgen said “wasn’t one of the better days of my life.”

“It’s time we got our respect back,” sophomore tailback Lance Ball said. “They’re here at our house now and it’s prime-time football on national TV, and we have to prove a point.”

Doing so won’t be easy. Friedgen implored his team in recent days to believe it could win, much as it did last year when it stunned fifth-ranked Florida State at Byrd Stadium, while also musing about how little film he could break down on the Virginia Tech defense’s red zone and goal line proclivities.

Only seven Terps who started last year’s Blacksburg blowout are expected to start tonight. Maryland’s relative inexperience is nothing new — Friedgen mentions it on a weekly basis — and the team has improved considerably since the start of the season.

Yet a visit from a top-five team is different from the Terps’ previous six tests. Friedgen detected more anxiety from his staff than from his players this week, and he conceded the talented Hokies have the potential to deliver a bludgeoning similar to last year if the Terps haven’t matured as much as he hopes they have.

“It could happen,” Friedgen said. “It’s our young guys, that’s maybe my biggest concern. This is their first really big game on a national spotlight. How are they going to handle it against a physical football team?

“Win, lose or draw, I think we’re going to be better from it. I think we’d be a lot better if we won it, though.”

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