- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

As Election Day draws closer, more than a few politicians could learn a thing or two about staying on message from the Maryland football team.

This week could have been a protracted celebration for the Terrapins in the wake of a victory over Florida State that secured bowl eligibility for the first time in three years.

Instead of looking back — or ahead to a sunny locale for the final week of December — the Terps provided a steady drumbeat for what lies in front of them in the final half of their conference schedule.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “Everybody is talking about getting six because we’d gone 5-6 the last two years, but our goals are way up there.”

Said linebacker Erin Henderson: “A lot of people are excited because we got that sixth win, but we’re searching for much more and we’re on a mission to get much more.”

Added fullback Tim Cesa: “It’s a little relief on our part, but our goals are higher than a bowl. We don’t just want to go to Boise, Idaho, for a bowl game. We want to compete for the title, and we’re in a position to do it.”

The Terps (6-2, 3-1 ACC) start the final third of their season today when they visit No. 19 Clemson (7-2, 4-2), the first of three games Maryland must play against other Atlantic Division contenders.

And it won’t be easy.

Clemson easily boasts the conference’s most explosive offense and is averaging a stunning 239.4 yards rushing behind the young though uber-talented tailback tandem of C.J. Spiller and James Davis.

Spiller, a freshman, is an electric player capable of shrugging off tackles and evading defenders all together with the help of a veteran offensive line. Against a Maryland rush defense ranked 11th in the conference (169.2 yards), the pair could be especially dangerous.

“As a team we have to know you can’t get down on yourself if you give up a 15-yard run or a 20-yard run,” Henderson said. “You have to understand there’s a chance they can break one for 15, a chance they break one for 20. You just can’t let them break 20 for every play. It has to be only every now and again.”

The Tigers are also strong up front defensively, both with a powerful pass rush and a stingy run defense. So just like any other week, it appears Maryland’s passing game might be a greater factor.

It hasn’t turned out to be the Terps’ primary weapon during their three-game winning streak. Instead, quarterback Sam Hollenbach has expertly managed the game while avoiding turnovers. Yet this could be the week more will be asked of him.

“I think we all understand the passing game is going to be huge this week,” Hollenbach said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean 300 yards passing and a lot of deep balls and all that. I think what it does mean is that in key situations, when we do have an open receiver, to be able to hit him and make the right read and make the right throw.”

A win would eliminate whatever doubt Maryland might possess about its bowl viability. Friedgen and his players said repeatedly in recent weeks six wins might not be enough to secure a postseason berth since it’s plausible that the ACC could produce more bowl-eligible teams than tie-ins.

Still, the mathematics of the situation strongly suggest Hollenbach will have the luxury of finally retiring his grimy Gator Bowl hat, a fixture at postgame interviews the last two years. With 64 berths available, more than half of the 119 Division I-A teams will play in the postseason.

In the last two years, the only bowl-eligible teams from BCS conferences to stay home were Clemson and South Carolina in 2004. Both schools would have received invitations had they not removed themselves from consideration after engaging in a brawl in their regular-season finale.

That is probably small comfort to Friedgen, who wondered this week whether any bowl would be interested in the Terps if they didn’t win again. But like his players, his mind is firmly entrenched on Maryland’s impending four-week finish.

“There are certain plateaus as you go and what you have to do is say ‘What was your final goal?’ ” Friedgen said. “That’s what you have to continually look to. At the end of the season, count your chips. It’s like a poker game. Don’t count them while you’re playing.”

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