- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Some coaches prefer to use a week off as an opportunity to rest weary players. Others see it as a chance to tinker with units that could be badly exposed without some retooling.

It will be a mix of both for the Maryland football team, which went 3-1 during its opening month. The record is no surprise, but the harrowing manner in which the Terrapins navigated a troika of teams paid handsomely to serve as preconference fodder provides plenty of reason for pause.

The Terps, halfway to bowl eligibility after Saturday night’s 14-10 squeaker against Florida International, won’t play again until their ACC opener at Georgia Tech on Oct.7. That gives Maryland two weeks to improve in many regards, especially since a different deficiency seems to surface each week.

“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to get better,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “I think the team can be better than what we’re playing. That’s my belief. I have a tremendous belief in these kids, maybe more than they do.”

And probably more just about anyone who watched the Terps roll up three underwhelming victories and absorb a bludgeoning at West Virginia this month. Friedgen said yesterday he found much to praise in the victory — notably, his team’s effort — but there is little doubt Maryland must improve in several areas.

The latest problem was an inefficient offense. Maryland struggled to pick up Florida International’s complex blitz package, and quarterback Sam Hollenbach frequently found defenders barreling into the backfield. The Terps didn’t advance past the enemy 35 in five second-half drives.

“I never felt like I was in a groove like I wanted to be …,” Hollenbach said. “They did some things that was stuff that I have to be able to see and stuff I wasn’t seeing quick enough. That’s stuff that in an ACC game is going to be tough to come back from.”

The Terps received a credible defensive effort and solid special teams play, two units that struggled at West Virginia. This time an offense Friedgen wouldn’t trust to throw a pass deep in his own territory late in the game was the culprit for a close game.

Hollenbach’s longest completion was a 21-yard dump to tailback Josh Allen, and one of his longest throws was intercepted at the goal line.

“I feel our strength is that we run the ball pretty good, but in order for that to remain our strength, we’re going to have to pass the ball better, and we’re going to have to make plays up the field,” Friedgen said.

Just add stretching the field — a likely focus during short practice sessions with only skill players set for Tuesday and Wednesday — to the Terps’ burgeoning to-do list. Revitalizing an offensive line that made 22 mental errors is another priority.

The Terps acknowledge performances like Saturday’s — which drew boos in the final moments from those who didn’t participate in a second-half exodus from Byrd Stadium — cannot continue. Whether those fans return will have a lot to do with how much Maryland improves in the next two weeks.

“This is not going to cut it to win in the ACC,” wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “We probably won’t win another game playing like this, but that’s not going to happen.”

Notes — Offensive linemen Stephon Heyer (sprained thumb) and Donnie Woods (shoulder), linebacker Moses Fokou (sprained shoulder) and wide receiver Isaiah Williams (pectoral strain) were injured Saturday, but Friedgen said all four likely will be ready to play in two weeks. …

Friedgen praised Florida International defensive end Antwan Barnes throughout last week, but he probably didn’t expect the respect to be returned during Saturday’s game. “He came up to me twice on the sideline and shook my hand and said, ‘I always wanted to meet you.’ It was very unusual,” Friedgen said. “After the game, he told me, ‘I grew up watching you.’ He made me feel like I was ancient.”



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