- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

Safety Terrell Skinner, whether he wanted to or not, let his thoughts drift back to another miserable night after Maryland’s season-opening 52-13 loss at California last week.

The early turnovers, the fumbled kickoff, the lopsided halftime score… all of it stirred memories of the Ghost of Terrapins Blowouts Past, notably a Thursday night pummeling at West Virginia three years ago.

Even though the score tightened in a meaningless second half, it was the first true test for that 2006 team. But there was still more than two months left in the season, leaving plenty of time to create a more lasting image of what the Terps were about that autumn.

“That year we went 9-4, didn’t we?” said Skinner, who was on Maryland’s travel roster for that 45-24 loss. “We went to the Champs [Sports] Bowl, so I mean, that’s not bad, right?”

The season became the Terps’ most successful in the past five years, devoid of either a losing regular season or a season-ending bowl trip across multiple time zones. And it might be the best blueprint for Maryland to follow as it moves past its forgettable debut, starting Saturday night when James Madison visits Byrd Stadium.

Both the ‘06 edition and this year’s bunch started a senior quarterback, and both teams were relatively young. But perhaps most interestingly, coach Ralph Friedgen adopted a calm approach after each loss, acknowledging there were deficiencies while lauding a willingness to play hard (if not particularly well) until the end.

“The similarity I see is that I don’t think our guys ever quit,” Friedgen said. “They played hard. Another similarity obviously was the turnovers early. But to me, we had a chance to come back on that. If I remember [the West Virginia game] correctly, which I try to block it out of my mind, we had four or five turnovers in the first half, and were down 28-0 before the first quarter was over.”

Such was the sentiment echoed throughout the team this week. The Terps trailed 14-6 early in the second quarter at California, withstanding what appeared to be an early knockout to cobble together two scoring drives. That, combined with a propensity to yield large chunks of yardage rather than long possessions (only one of California’s seven touchdown drives lasted longer than five plays), left Maryland believing it was as much to blame for last week’s humbling as the talented Golden Bears.

“It wasn’t in my hometown this time, but it was just as bad because I had a lot of family members and friends watching on national TV,” said fullback Cory Jackson, a Morgantown, W.V., native. “It’s a pretty disappointing way to start off the season. We just got off on the wrong foot, and I think we just killed ourselves throughout the game just like we did in that West Virginia game.”

Friedgen acknowledged he remains more encouraged than maybe he would have been in the past. That’s impressive merely because the Terps are coming off the second-worst drubbing of his tenure, behind only a 55-6 loss at Virginia Tech in 2004.

But his upbeat take is even more striking since the Terps will be without tackle Bruce Campbell (turf toe) and safety Jamari McCollough (ankle) this week - and perhaps longer. Both are among Maryland’s most valuable components.

“The thing with this team [that] I guess allows me to be optimistic is just that they like practicing,” Friedgen said. “They like playing football. Very rarely do I see a lack of conscious effort, guys just dogging it. I don’t see that.”

An impressive display against the Dukes, who will make their season debut, could assuage some concerns that simmered throughout camp and bubbled up last week on the West Coast. Then again, that was only the latest early season scuffle for the Terps, who last made it past Sept. 18 without a loss in 2001.

Sometimes the Terps were haunted by those early setbacks. At others - like in 2006 - it was merely a momentary step backward.

“I think it’ll be similar to every year,” Jackson said. “I wish we could start out stronger. I see a lot of teams that do better in first games than we do, but I feel we grow a lot throughout the process.

“I’m just hoping it doesn’t take us three games to wake up.”

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