- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen believed a victory at No. 5 West Virginia on Thursday night could change the fortunes of his program, leading it out of the abyss of consecutive losing seasons.

The aftermath of the Terrapins’ 45-24 loss left Friedgen with a task just as serious: Figuring out how to fix an increasingly lackluster defense West Virginia shredded for 340 yards rushing, the most surrendered by Maryland in the five-plus seasons since Friedgen took over.

“Defenses are being called and they’re not being executed or other defenses are being run,” Friedgen said. “We have to get that solved and fixed. I don’t know why that’s happening, but we have to find out why. … I have to see what we’re doing. We may get too complicated, but I don’t know. I’m going to take that one under my hat now, too.”

Consider it one more thing to fix, perhaps by next week’s visit from Florida International and more critically in time for the Oct. 7 ACC opener at Georgia Tech. Until then, no one will truly have a sense what the Terps’ took from their nationally televised instant meltdown — and subsequent thumping — in Morgantown.

The defensive woes didn’t just spring up since defensive coordinator Chris Cosh took over for the retired Gary Blackney in the offseason, particularly in the rushing game. Maryland ceded 200 yards on the ground four times last season and three times in 2004.

Yet Maryland hasn’t looked this inept defensively since Friedgen took over before the 2001 season. The Mountaineers found open space with such ease it was clear more than a talent gap or a few busted tackles were the causes of the rout.

Sure, West Virginia threw for only 43 yards (the second-fewest under Friedgen), but it didn’t have to.

Instead, tailback Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White carved up the helpless Terps quite fine on their own, helping the Mountaineers jump to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter while exploiting a tentativeness Maryland displayed even in two victories to start the season.

“We came out there and we were little sluggish and came out there and did a lot of things we weren’t supposed to do,” senior cornerback Josh Wilson said. “We missed a lot of containment opportunities and they got a running back that’s pretty good and can get around the corner and he hurt us.”

Of course, the Terps didn’t take care of the ball enough, either. Two special teams turnovers accounted for five of the Terps’ miscues, and Maryland emerged from its first three games with a turnover margin of minus-six.

It’s a figure with a painfully familiar ring for the Terps, who squandered away games last year because of their own generosity.

“I’d like to say I’ve been trying to fix it for three years ago,” Friedgen said. “Some of the turnovers come on special teams, and obviously those guys have to hold onto the ball, too. I drove up the other night and watched ‘The Program’ and when the guy fumbled the ball he had to take it to class. Maybe I’ll try that.”

In fairness, one fumble was on the final play of the first half. Another miscue was a questionable interception early in the second half when receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey appeared to wrest control of quarterback Sam Hollenbach’s pass from cornerback Antonio Lewis, only to have officials and a booth review rule it an interception.

Hollenbach and Maryland’s inexperienced pass-catchers were arguably the team’s highlight for the evening. The senior withstood pressure and made good decisions throughout the game despite hurting his non-throwing hand, an injury he shrugged off after the game.

He also involved three wide receivers and tight end Joey Haynos in what became a possession-oriented scheme against a West Virginia defense wary of big plays. He directed a scoring drive in the fourth quarter and found sophomore Isaiah Williams for an acrobatic 35-yard touchdown catch.

“There’s a lot to learn from this tape and hopefully we can get a lot out of it,” Hollenbach said. “Especially late in the game, we kept fighting. I felt proud of the guys I was in the huddle with. Obviously there’s no moral victories or anything, but it’s early in the season, we played the No. 5 team in the country and hopefully we can get some positives.”

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