- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Whenever Maryland’s football team had the ball in the second half in Saturday’s victory over Miami, it inevitably would find itself in a third-and-long hole it had little chance of extricating itself from.

Once the Hurricanes inevitably regained possession, the Terrapins’ defense would turn in two solid plays, then break down on third down just enough to allow Miami’s possession to continue until it broached the red zone.

On the pattern went before Maryland finally eked out a 14-13 victory to remain tied for the ACC’s Atlantic Division for another week. Still, there is no question the Terps will be hard-pressed to win another game in which they allow an opponent to convert 13 of 21 third-down tries while going a mere 2-for-10 on their own.

“We’ve got to play smarter,” junior linebacker Wesley Jefferson said. “We know what’s going on. We know where the sticks are. We just have to be aware of what the situation is, where people are located and just get off the field. There’s a not a whole lot to say.”

There is, however, plenty for the No. 21 Terps (8-2, 5-1 ACC) to improve on heading into Saturday’s game at No. 20 Boston College (8-2, 4-2), particularly on offense.

Maryland’s inability to extend drives isn’t a new problem — it ranks ninth in the ACC in third-down conversions at 33.6 percent — but facing a succession of stout defenses has exacerbated the Terps’ woes. More than half (19) of Maryland’s 34 third-down situations in the last three games have been from at least 7 yards.

Those are scenarios most teams struggle with since there is little choice but to call a pass play. Yet Maryland has actually fared better in medium-length third-down situations in the last three weeks (4-for-7) than when it needs 3 yards or less to earn a new series (3-for-8).

“What people are doing to us when we get in third-and-short, they’re bring everybody and they man up and press up,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “If you don’t get the time and you don’t win outside, you have a problem. I have to do a better job of trying to get us some time and get us some plays out of that. Put that one on me.”

Even still, a third-and-short is still a favorable situation the Terps have not often found themselves in, a reality rooted in the first two plays of each series. Maryland ran 15 plays on first down against Miami, and only two went for between 5 and 9 yards (two more were first downs and another was a touchdown).

“Someone has to come up with a big play, and we’ve done that throughout the year,” right guard Andrew Crummey said. “You saw against Miami a few times we didn’t get those big plays where we didn’t convert and had to punt, and that just puts more pressure on the defense. It’s something the offense has to take off the defense.”

The toll of remaining on the field for 73 plays and more than 37 minutes was evident in the second half for the Maryland defense, which has made a habit of stiffening in recent weeks once an opponent gets closer to the end zone.

A few stops earlier in drives — which could have come several times by wrapping up elusive quarterback Kirby Freeman instead of playing a potential pitch — could have kept the defense fresher late in the game. If nothing else, it would have made the Terps’ latest tight victory a bit less harrowing.

“We’ve just got to get off the field,” Jefferson said. “I’d say that’s a good portion of the reason we played 75 snaps. We don’t just have to win the moment the game is decided on but win the moment before that so we won’t be in those situations.”

As shaky as the third-down performance has been — and how damaging it could prove to be if it continues — the Terps have managed to capture five straight for the first time since the end of the 2003 season. That’s enough evidence for some to remain unmoved by Maryland’s situational struggles.

“I can be on the field for 100 minutes as long as we’re winning,” cornerback Josh Wilson said. “If we’re on the field for 90 plays and the offense is only on for 10 and we win, I’ll take Sunday and Monday during the day to rest up.”

Note — Friedgen said left guard Donnie Woods, who suffered a concussion and a neck injury in Saturday’s game and was airlifted to a hospital, is doubtful for Saturday’s game. All tests performed on Woods were negative, who likely will be replaced in the lineup by Jaimie Thomas.

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