- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

The most painful kind of defeat, as any coach will tell you, is one that is self-inflicted. Which is why Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen will have a few choice remarks for his troops when they assemble for practice today.

The Terrapins had no business losing to Clemson 28-24 yesterday at Byrd Stadium, but they let it happen because of inopportune, boneheaded penalties that sabotaged any chance for a snappy 2-0 start to Friedgen’s fifth season in Terptown.

As always, Maryland’s portly grid guru was gracious and soft-spoken as he met with reporters afterward. But no genius genes were required to ascertain that the steam will be coming out of his ears after he reviews game films and confronts his presumably chastened charges.

“It was a tough loss because we had the game in hand,” he said. “We gave them 14 points on penalties, and we can’t afford to do that.”

Actually, the Terps “gave” Clemson 21 points on penalties, but the Fridge probably couldn’t bear to admit that.

Here’s the ugly rundown, if you care to count the ways in which Maryland shafted itself:

• First quarter, opening drive: Clemson quarterback Charlie “Freeway” Whitehurst fumbles a snap and loses 4 yards on third-and-3 — but Maryland linebacker William Kershaw is hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct that gives the Tigers a first down and leads to Reggie Merriweather’s 1-yard touchdown run.

• Third quarter, Maryland leading 10-7: The Terps are tagged with twin personal foul infractions on the same play (linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, cornerback Gerrick McPhearson), moving the ball from the Maryland 40 to the 12 and setting up Whitehurst’s 6-yard TD pass to wide receiver Curtis Baham.

• Fourth quarter, Maryland back in front 24-14 with matters seemingly well in hand: After Whitehurst completes a short pass to his 20, McPhearson draws another personal foul, giving the Tigers a first down at the 35. Four plays later, Whitehurst and Baham connect on a 51-yard TD to bring Clemson back within range.

Four penalties = three touchdowns = Friedgen yanking out some of his remaining hair. You can bet the Terps will hear about that today and probably repeatedly before West Virginia arrives at Byrd Stadium on Saturday for another noon affair.

Penalties are bound to happen when a team is both inexperienced and aggressive, as the Terps are. But so what? Any coach who makes or allows excuses soon will find himself in another line of work.

“We had an opportunity [to win], and we didn’t get it done,” Friedgen said simply.

And what about all those penalties, Coach?

“There was too much [trash] talking among players going on out there. I’m not for that. I don’t condone it at all.”

In other words, shut your tater traps and just pay football. Or else.

So far this season, Maryland has won a game by three points (over Navy 23-20) and lost one by four. With nine games left, this team’s direction remains solidly in doubt, so to speak. West Virginia should provide another stern test Saturday, but who knows how the Terps will react to yesterday’s blown effort.

Since the beginning of preseason practice, Friedgen has said he likes the spirit and spunk of this team. Nobody expects a great deal from the Terps, sort of how it was in 2001, when his first Maryland team went 10-1 in the regular season and wound up in the Orange Bowl. But none of the positive vibes and signs mean anything until Maryland gets it done consistently on the field.

To be sure, there are positive signs. One of them is the play of junior quarterback Sam Hollenbach, a former fourth-stringer who despite a couple of mistakes yesterday gives the Terps the kind of passing attack they never mustered a year ago with Joel Statham and Jordan Steffy at the controls. Hollenbach completed 18 of 28 for 288 yards against Clemson, six of them for 140 yards to hulking tight end Vernon Davis.

But the penalties and other mistakes must be eliminated, or at least reduced to a reasonable number. Friedgen, of course, thinks it will happen.

“I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t respond positively [to yesterday’s trials and tribulations],” he said of the momentarily tattered Terps.

They had better.

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