- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Maryland football program has stressed the importance of patience in recent weeks, claiming it will be some time before the inexperienced team completely matures.

For this season, however, time already could be running out on the Terrapins’ hopes of ending their one-year bowl hiatus.

Though it is not even the halfway point of the season, Maryland (1-2, 0-1 ACC) needs a victory today at Wake Forest (1-2, 0-0) to revive its postseason hopes and bring life back to a team disappointed with back-to-back home losses to Clemson and West Virginia.

“We’ve played three games, and we’ve played good enough to win three games, but we just haven’t,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “The more you lose, the more it plays on your psyche and your belief that you can win. Just the opposite is true when you do win. We need to win soon or it’ll get tougher and tougher.”

The last two weeks frustrated the Terps, who had opportunities to win both games before fading in the fourth quarter. The losses were painful lessons for a decidedly green team — only six of the 22 listed starters have at least 10 career starts — that has watched its youth manifest itself in several ways this season.

The Terps’ offensive line has struggled to run block effectively, and rushers Mario Merrills, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore have all had bouts of ineffectiveness. Friedgen said all three backs would play against Wake Forest, but that individual playing time would be dictated by which personnel group is on the field.

On defense, the Terps’ young front four wore down last week as West Virginia relied almost exclusively on the run in the fourth quarter. The unit, which sent Randy Starks and Shawne Merriman to the NFL the last two years, has no seniors and starts a true freshman (Jeremy Navarre) and a redshirt freshman (Trey Covington) at defensive end.

That group will be tested again by Wake Forest’s Micah Andrews and Chris Barclay, who are averaging a combined 288.3 yards rushing.

“We’re five years into the program and you guys don’t want to hear me say anything about youth and inexperience,” defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said. “… Good programs are able to just reload, not rebuild. In fact, we’re not there yet. I’m talking about the Southern Cals and the Tennessees. We’re not there yet. People have to understand that. We’ve got a chance to get there, but when we lose a Merriman, we don’t just get another Merriman and put him in the lineup.”

Even Friedgen, hardly a paragon of patience, is measuring progress by improvement and effort as well as victories. He shortened practices this week, and he believes his team will eventually develop — even if it isn’t this season.

And as for some of the mistakes the Terps have made? Friedgen figures it is just part of the maturation process.

“You don’t want hear that. The fans don’t want to hear that,” Friedgen said. “I really don’t want to hear that, but that’s the way it is.”

It’s unlikely anyone really wants to hear just how significant today’s game is to the Terps’ postseason hopes, either. Maryland has three ranked teams plus Boston College remaining and can ill afford to cough up any more games against teams likely to finish around .500.

The Terps remain optimistic, pointing to the more experienced Maryland teams in both 2002 and 2003 that overcame 1-2 starts to win at least 10 games and a bowl.

“We have a lot more ball to play,” senior linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s not the way you wanted to start the season, but things happen like that and that’s football. We have to bounce back and change a few things.”

Still, the Terps sense the importance of their meeting with the undermanned-though-disciplined Demon Deacons. A loss would extend their skid to three, and with a visit from No. 23 Virginia looming next week, a setback today would make it difficult for the Terps to earn a postseason trip.

“We definitely have to win,” senior wideout Derrick Fenner said. “It would cure a lot of things. We’re on this losing streak right now, and I think it would help these young guys and it would help us [veterans]. We have to stick in there if we want to go to a bowl game.”

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