- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ralph Friedgen didn’t exactly say it, but he came close.

Whew!

Surely every red-clad Maryland fan in a throng of 47,527 at Byrd Stadium felt that way yesterday after the Terrapins escaped a strong second-half rally by Georgia Tech for a 28-26 victory that probably shouldn’t have happened.

“We were fortunate to win,” conceded Friedgen, who is more candid than most others in his profession. A bit later, he added, “We were very fortunate to win.”

Indubitably.

Early in the second quarter, the Terps appeared on the verge of a blowout triumph. They led 21-3, sophomore quarterback Chris Turner was looking like Boomer Esiason reincarnate in his first start and some spectators probably were on their cell phones trying to order tickets for the ACC title game.

Not so fast, folks, because then it all seemed to evaporate like a pipe dream.

Suddenly the Maryland defense, operating without injured linebacker Erin Henderson and most of the way without backup Rick Costa, couldn’t stop the Yellow Jackets’ two offensive dandies, quarterback Taylor Bennett and running back Tashard Choice.

And for a while, Turner “tuned out,” as Friedgen put it — particularly when he fumbled while being sacked, and defensive end Darrell Robertson returned the ball 32 yards for a touchdown that reduced Maryland’s lead to 21-10 at halftime.

After intermission, sad to tell, the Terps’ defense couldn’t stop anybody. Georgia Tech added two touchdowns and a field goal, coming within two points, and then drove from its 26 to the Maryland 25 as the clock wound down and visions of the overtime loss to Wake Forest two weeks ago danced through the heads of partisan spectators. In that one, you’ll recall, the Terps blew a 24-3 third-period lead.

“That probably crossed my mind,” Friedgen admitted.

Probably? If it didn’t, he must have had nerves of steel and a gut of iron.

With Travis Bell, one of the nation’s best field goal kickers ready to deliver a likely game-winner, the Terps seemed all done. But they got a needed break when Yellow Jackets lineman Andrew Gardner was penalized for holding on third down, forcing Bell to try a 52-yarder.

It was wide right and, somewhat miraculously, Maryland survived to fight another day.

In the early going, Turner and the Terps appeared nothing short of spectacular. After missing on his first two tosses, the former third-stringer hit his next three for 169 yards — a 78-yard touchdown to tight end Jason Goode and pass-run connections of 44 and 47 yards to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey that set up two of Lance Ball’s three touchdown runs.

For Turner’s predecessor as starter — the inconsistent junior Jordan Steffy, who missed combat after sustaining a concussion last week against Rutgers — it seemed a clear case of “see ya later.” Inevitably, however, Turner cooled down although he finished the day 10-for-17 for 255 yards.

Afterward, Friedgen mostly praised the young man, saying, “Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disappointed in Chris Turner. He did more good things than bad, but I think he’ll get better. He has a chance to be really good.”

Turner is a frizzy-haired California blond who undoubtedly frustrates his coach by often practicing poorly and playing well in games or scrimmages — a total violation of football theory. And there’s nothing conceited about the kid even if he gives the appearance of being totally laid-back and devil-may-care.

Urged probably unfairly to grade his performance, Turner replied, “I’d give myself a ‘B’ — that’s about where I am now. I made some mistakes, and I gotta get those corrected.”

Of course, Friedgen was asked whether Turner or Steffy would start the next game Oct. 20 against Virginia following a week off. Of course, he replied in coachspeak: We’re not going to make that decision now. We’ll evaluate them both in practice Blah, blah, blah.

Chris Turner will start against the Cavaliers and likely for the rest of the season. If he doesn’t, Ralph Friedgen could be considered stupid or a fool — and the Fridge is neither.


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