- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2006

Palpable disappointment showed among the half-dozen Maryland football players who trudged across the hall from the locker room to a makeshift interview area after Saturday’s 27-23 loss to Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

And several other emotions, too.

Frustration, for squandering a fourth-quarter lead.

Anger, for letting a handful of bad bounces and poor plays ruin an otherwise solid day.

And, appropriately enough, optimism because of the obvious team improvement since the previous game two weeks earlier, showing the current Terrapins are better than their pair of 5-6 predecessors.

“Even though we lost, I feel a lot better about this team than last year’s team,” redshirt freshman wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “Last year’s team, when we would lose a game, you could see in the locker room guys didn’t even care that we lost. It was, ‘OK, we can brush it off, we lost last year and the year before.’ Now you see guys’ emotions flaring up in there and guys who really want to win.”

Maryland (3-2, 0-1 ACC) very nearly did against the Yellow Jackets, who rose to No.13 in this week’s Associated Press poll. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was sharper than the Terps’ often sluggish first four outings.

All along, coach Ralph Friedgen and his players have insisted the Terps were a postseason-worthy team, one capable of growing as the season progressed. Maryland certainly looked like a different team in Saturday’s loss, even shrugging off two turnovers and a Georgia Tech rally to get close to a go-ahead touchdown before stalling in the final minute.

“All your opinions were that we didn’t have a chance,” Friedgen said in a teleconference with reporters yesterday. “Every question I heard last week was, ‘How are you going to defend Calvin Johnson? How are you going to defend Reggie Ball? How you going to do that?’ Yet we were right in there and gave them a game. If nothing else, it proves to our players they can play with a good football team.”

Yet further progress is needed. The rushing defense struggled again, though partially as a function of providing double coverage on wideout Johnson.

The Terps’ turnover troubles resurfaced with two in the fourth quarter. And Maryland frequently found itself in second-and-long, placing greater pressure on the passing game.

The overall progress, though, could provide a boost that lasts the rest of the season.

“This is really motivating us,” senior cornerback Josh Wilson said. “Especially with a team that is young, [to] be able to show and believe that you can play with the best. … Now that we have that belief, I think we’re going to be on a road that’s nothing but up.”

That road could lead to victories, perhaps the kind Friedgen believes could revitalize his program.

Saturday’s loss provides hope that victory could arrive soon, but Friedgen doesn’t want anyone dwelling on the setback for long.

“We were close, but we’re not there,” Friedgen said. “When that happens, I still think you’re going to see a team grow at a very fast pace. We just have to punch through. We have to forget about it from a coaches’ standpoint and from a players’ standpoint. There’s nothing we can do about it now. It’s over with.”

Meanwhile, Friedgen declined to describe what, if any, injuries the Terps suffered Saturday.

“You guys [the media] really put us in a tough spot with these injuries,” Friedgen said. “I don’t know if I’m going to comment on injuries ever again.”


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