- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

The Maryland football team’s bus ride from Bobby Dodd Stadium last Saturday was a decidedly strange sojourn. The Terrapins had their way with Georgia Tech for three quarters, in the process looking far different from the tentative group that shuffled through September.

There was a sense of accomplishment as the buses chugged toward the airport, even as the Terps digested a 27-23 loss to the Yellow Jackets. And the unusual dichotomy — visible improvement mixed with a distasteful result — lingered long after the flight home.

“Frustration is yea high,” sophomore wideout Isaiah Williams said as he held his hand near his chin. “We’re tired of coming back home Saturday nights and looking and saying, ‘What are we doing? What are we not doing right here?’ We’re still working through it, and we definitely see players getting better every day.”

And just like that, Williams encapsulated the duality of Maryland’s situation as it enters today’s game at Virginia. Sure, it’s great to see progress, but the search for a payoff has become agonizingly long.

Perhaps the Terps (3-2, 0-1 ACC) can slake some of their irritation with a victory over the struggling Cavaliers (2-4, 1-1). At the least, winning at Scott Stadium for the first time since 1990 would be a rare accomplishment for the program and serve as another incremental step toward a bowl berth.

Yet, there’s no guarantee Maryland will respond to last week’s disappointment with a productive outing. Coach Ralph Friedgen generally has remained optimistic with a group that includes only five players who appeared in the program’s recent apogee, the Gator Bowl victory after the 2003 season, lest greater frustration set in.

“I think it’s a human nature thing,” Friedgen said. “You keep trying and trying as hard as you can, and something just seems to happen to prevent you from pushing through. I don’t blame them. I think I’m that way, too. I’m kind of pulling for them. I want to see them get one of these games and realize what all the hard work is for.”

What is especially befuddling is Maryland’s inability to get everything working well at the same time. The special teams endured a miserable night in a loss to West Virginia, but the unit was spectacular against Georgia Tech. The offense moved the ball in the first half last week but went missing for much of the Terps’ victory over Florida International.

The defense yo-yoed all over the place in the first five games, though it struggled badly against the run in the Terps’ two losses. Part of last week’s problem could be attributed to siphoning an extra player to provide double coverage to wideout Calvin Johnson, but at other times defenders were simply caught out of their lanes.

“Look at all the good football teams around the country, the top-15 teams, and they have all three aspects,” junior guard Donnie Woods said. “I think we put an aspect together each week, but we just haven’t put all three together. Once we do that, we’re going to be a really good football team. What it takes to do that, I don’t know. I think we’re working toward that.”

Some encouraging trends emerged last week. Tailback Lance Ball was the primary ball-carrier for the second straight game, and Dan Ennis delivered a career-long 46-yard field goal. Wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey enjoyed a fine day and has been targeted a team-high 25 times in the last three games, catching 14 passes for 195 yards in that span.

Taken together, they nearly outweighed the two turnovers and the nine-point lead squandered in the fourth quarter. Yet unlike last year, when the Terps could say they were in games late against Virginia Tech and Boston College even if it didn’t always seem like it, Maryland legitimately can believe it hung with a ranked opponent until the closing seconds.

“We felt like we played a pretty complete game as a team,” quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. “And we felt like we played well enough essentially to win the game. It wasn’t like we were frustrated the whole game. It wasn’t like we were out of it. It was different than last year’s feel. I felt comfortable the whole game. I think we’ll be able to move beyond it.”

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