- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

This was the one Ralph Friedgen and his Maryland Terrapins had to have.

And they got it with a daunting, dandy effort Saturday that yielded a 35-27 victory over No. 23 California at Byrd Stadium that was much more emphatic than the score showed.

Against a team that averaged 52 points in dispatching Michigan State and Washington State, the Terps’ defense turned Cal into a collegiate version of the Bad News Bears when it mattered. Take third-down conversions, a vital part of any game. These Bears made exactly two of 11.

Some folks on the Left Coast had been touting sophomore Jahvid Best as perhaps Cal’s most menacing runner since future baseball star Jackie Jensen and future Redskins player Johnny Olszewski were rumbling and rambling more than a half-century ago.

Big deal, said the Terps. They held him to 25 yards in 10 carries, turning Best into Least when it came to gaining ground.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott was demonstrating just who the real sophomore flash on the premises was. Scott scooted for 87 yards in 19 carries and Maryland’s first two touchdowns before departing with a shoulder injury in the third quarter.

It was left to quarterback Kevin Riley to move the football, which he did by completing 33 of 58 passes for 423 yards, most in garbage time after the Bears found themselves in arrears 28-6.

Considering the Terps’ mediocre play in their first two games, including a rather inexplicable 24-14 bombout at Middle Tennessee a week earlier, this was a most significant victory. It signaled, among other things, that Friedgen can still inspire his team to play at a dazzling level following several ho-hum seasons.

So extreme was Maryland’s transition from meek Twerps to snapping Terps that press box P.A. announcer Phil Hochberg exclaimed at halftime, with the hosts leading 21-6, “The cry is echoing through the stands: ‘Bring on Middle Tennessee [again]!’”

Well, not quite. Instead, the 2-1 Terps will play customarily comatose Eastern Michigan next weekend before challenging eight consecutive ACC opponents in a season that still could evolve either way.

How can you figure a team that stinks up the joint against Delaware and Middle Tennessee, then sends the Golden Bears whimpering back west with their tails between their legs?

I can’t, you can’t and Ralph Friedgen can’t. Better to await further developments.

“This was a very good win. … It showed what our kids are made of,” Friedgen said.

So what about that Middle Tennessee disaster?

“I kind of challenged them [Friday] night at our meeting,” Friedgen said. ” ‘Who in this room has been told they aren’t good enough? … How does that make you feel? … What are you going to do about it?’ … But I didn’t know if it hit home.”

It did.

“He harped on it all week,” said quarterback Chris Turner, who did his bit by going 15-for-19 for 156 yards and two touchdowns. “But you know how Coach Friedgen is - he never gets down on us.”

Lately, though, some other people had been getting down on the Fridge. It seems preposterous to ponder that Friedgen, the economy-sized alumnus, who restored Maryland’s distant football glory by going 31-8 his first three seasons, was in trouble entering Saturday’s game - but in some quarters, he was.

True, his record was 57-32 and he had shepherded his troops to five bowl games in seven years. But in sports, the operative question is, “What have you done for us lately?” And the Fridge hadn’t done all that much.

A losing record this season would make it five nonwinning campaigns in six years, which could increase the grumbling among fair-weather fans who can’t understand why the Terps don’t grace a New Year’s Day bowl game with their presence every year.

That expectation is clearly unrealistic, but Saturday’s triumph shows us that the Fridge’s cupboard isn’t as bare as some thought. For which Maryland football fans everywhere should be properly grateful.

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