- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2008

With the candor typical of many offensive lineman, Jaimie Thomas sat back and assessed the Maryland offensive line’s play at Virginia.

The brutal honesty, culled from several days of self-reflection, wasn’t a problem. The 31-0 loss hovering over the Terrapins for 11 days and counting, however, is another matter.

“We went out there, and basically we stunk it up,” the senior left guard said. “We didn’t play a good game. There’s really no other way to put it.”

Consider the line’s problems fully acknowledged as Maryland (4-2, 1-1 ACC) awaits Saturday’s visit from No. 21 Wake Forest (4-1, 2-0). Now comes fixing the woes of a unit struggling for unknown reasons.

The Terps’ running game in particular is languishing, with the tailbacks encountering diminishing returns over the last three weeks. Maryland was manhandled up front at Virginia, even if the Terps’ running backs fared a bit better than a week earlier at Clemson.

This wasn’t supposed to happen - not a to a unit destined to be a strength a year after several injuries exposed its tissue-thin depth.

“We have probably the most talented offensive line I’ve been in, but we have to put that on the field,” center Edwin Williams said. “We could have amazing practices. We could pancake the whole defense - at practice. We have to correlate that to the game, and that starts on Saturday.”

Not yet, though. Coach Ralph Friedgen expressed concern from the first week of August practice with the line’s progress, and it never entirely caught up with expectations. Friedgen thought he saw improvement two weeks ago in practice, but it was followed up with a game-day debacle.

The excuses are fleeting. Any adjustment to offensive coordinator James Franklin’s scheme probably should be complete. The Terps are relatively stable at quarterback with Chris Turner. And the line still includes five fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior among its top seven players, leaving the unit with more veterans than usual.

“That’s the worst thing about it,” right tackle Dane Randolph said. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I can’t blame the new offense because the new offense has really simplified a lot of stuff for us. It’s given us the opportunity to do things a lot easier, make rules a lot easier and not complicate things.”

At the season’s midpoint, it is probably fair to question whether the line was hyped just because of its experience. The Terps tweaked the group at Virginia, inserting left tackle Bruce Campbell for long stretches.

Friedgen said Tuesday “Campbell in particular” would play more in the second half of those season. But beyond the six other regulars and sophomore Paul Pinegar, it appears unlikely Maryland will find much help from its reserves.

“After those top eight, I wouldn’t think so,” line coach Tom Brattan said. “And the answers need to come out of those top eight.”

Friedgen remains disappointed in how physical the line is playing, especially since he believes that trait was ingrained in many of his earlier teams.

His players, though, sense other problems.

They see untimely false starts, missed landmarks and an unwise distancing from fundamental play since the beginning of the season.

But they also believe it can be corrected.

“It comes down to mental mistakes,” Thomas said. “Those are types of thing we can’t have. We’re supposed to be the leaders of this team, and it really goes as far as we can take it. Making mistakes like we have, we’re going to have results like we have.”

As opposed to the grand results expected just two months ago - an outcome the Terps believe is still possible.

“We did go into this thing thinking it would be a strength, “Franklin said. “It hasn’t so far. But the most important thing is if it finishes out the last six games of the year of the regular season being a strength, I think everyone will be real happy.”

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