- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

One of the perks of major-college football is traveling in relative comfort on a team’s schedule rather than an airline’s.

Sometimes, though, even the charms of a chartered flight cannot erase the sting of an inexplicable loss - as Maryland discovered last year on its trip home from a 24-14 loss at Middle Tennessee.

“You really didn’t even care about the plane,” linebacker Adrian Moten recalled.

It was a night that haunted the Terrapins throughout an 8-5 season, the first fuse lit for a topsy-turvy autumn littered with lots of surprises but little logic. No matter the victories - California, Wake Forest and North Carolina among them - there was always the black eye of losing to a nondescript team that finished 5-7.

Maryland (1-1) barely escaped another second-game washout when it eked out an overtime defeat of James Madison last week. Yet the threat of an encore looms as Middle Tennessee visits Byrd Stadium on Saturday.

And the thing is, the Blue Raiders (1-1) are better - and facing a team mired near the bottom of most defensive categories nationally. So while the vengeance angle will be badly overplayed, the greater concern for Maryland is surviving another week without a crippling loss.

“There’s 31 guys that are not here that were at that game last year,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “A lot of these kids didn’t even make the trip. I just don’t know how much I can rely on that. I would think just from a program standpoint they would want to redeem themselves. I think we’re so caught up right now in just trying to get better and find out where we are as a program.”

He can only hope it’s a better place than after the last time his team played Middle Tennessee. It was essentially the low tide in Friedgen’s eight-plus seasons. Just two games into a season, a veteran-laden team’s prospects hung in the balance after committing three turnovers and demonstrating a jarring lack of interest during a lethargic outing against an opponent only too happy to collect its first home victory against a member of a BCS conference.

There were ugly moments in the past year or so that the Terps would rather not relive. The blanking at Virginia. The prime-time bomb at Virginia Tech. The lifeless appearance against Florida State. And this year’s West Coast walloping at the hands of California.

None of those defeats, though, lingered quite like the mortification felt in Murfreesboro.

“People always ask, ‘The Cal game, you have to be embarrassed.’ And, yeah, it was embarrassing,” defensive end Deege Galt said. “But it didn’t really hang over you like Middle Tennessee hung over us last year. There was a couple days where it was, ‘Wow, I just can’t believe that happened.’ It was tough to get through as a team, but I think afterward we were better for it.”

Not that the Terps would like to go through it again. Not after the hectic start to this season. Not after already surviving a scare against James Madison. And not after seeing the program’s perception take a severe blow a year ago - and nearly take another one last week.

“It’s a game we really should have had. It’s a game we wanted, and we could have had nine wins because we should have won that game,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “But this year’s different. They’re a very good team, and they have a lot of returners on defense. They probably think they’re better than us. That’s probably the reality. Now we have a pretty good challenge.”

Middle Tennessee offers plenty of reasons to believe it can make it two in a row. Quarterback Dwight Dasher is a multifaceted option, the sort of player who confounds Maryland regardless of defensive scheme. The Blue Raiders are deeper than a season ago, and their spread offense (under new coordinator Tony Franklin) will stretch a depleted Maryland secondary.

And going for the Terps? The reluctance to revisit the misery and doubts of last fall, even if the trip home will merely be a trek across campus rather than a quiet flight through the night.

“That’s last year. I think this is a new year, and we have a new team,” Moten said. “Our team goals are better. I just think we’re going to have a good game this week.”

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