- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Maryland football team passed the quarter pole of its season last week. Not much has changed since they left the starting line.

The Terrapins still possess plenty of uncertainty. Fans remain skeptical of the autumn’s long-term prognosis. And coach Ralph Friedgen is quick to point to the inexperience of his outfit heading into Saturday’s meeting with Rutgers at Byrd Stadium.

“We have a young team, and I know people are tired of hearing that,” Friedgen said. “It’s just the way it is. We have to find some answers.”

And, no, as Friedgen said multiple times in the past two months, there are no obvious quick fixes. That doesn’t mean his mantra can hold up too long in the face of impatience.

Never mind how the Terps’ predicament developed. The short answer is mid-decade recruiting blunders on both lines; the long answer is more complex but rooted in the play of the two interior units most likely to act as a bellwether for any team.

Ultimately, the Terps (1-2) will face some issues all year, but they also have players uninterested in leaning on the crutch of youth.

“We’ve played in three games,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “That’s plenty of experience as far as I’m concerned. It’s time to just start playing like a mature team and start winning football games. The whole young thing is not an excuse anymore.”

Even Friedgen, perhaps as patient as he has ever been, seems a little weary of the repeated errors. Maryland committed eight turnovers in its first three games, and while its average penalty yardage is up only slightly from a year ago, the qualitative value of those miscues is an understandable source of frustration.

It led to the return of a classic Friedgen idiom - “Do it right, do it light; do it wrong, do it long” - this week at practice. Friedgen shut off the clock during Wednesday’s session, with Maryland repeating each play until it did each successfully. Friedgen didn’t make it back to his office until just minutes before a weekly television interview.

The next day, though, the Terps breezed through plenty of work before Friedgen, surprised reporters were still watching, bellowed at them to leave.

“I talked to them [Wednesday] and said, ‘The reason I like you is you work so hard,’ ” Friedgen said. “But what I’m worried about is them getting frustrated because they don’t do something right and they don’t put themselves in position to be successful. All that work is really not being productive. That’s why I’m insisting they do things the right way. If your hat is supposed to be there, it’s supposed to be there. It can’t be over here.”

His argument, however, reinforces the argument of youth. But statistical chicanery can be funny. For each number to support the claim of inexperience - 56 of the Terps’ 83 scholarship players are freshmen and sophomores - it’s not hard to find another to minimize those problems (Maryland has started at least 15 juniors and seniors in each game).

Injuries have played some role, and the loss of cornerback Nolan Carroll (broken right tibia) was a tough blow. But Maryland is expected to get tackle Bruce Campbell (turf toe) and safety Jamari McCollough (high-ankle sprain) back in some capacity against the Scarlet Knights (2-1).

More significantly, that could minimize the reliance on the argument of youth - one that might have been a little stale once the Terps returned for a four-game homestand.

“I think it should have been gone after the first game, after the Cal game,” cornerback Anthony Wiseman said. “Especially being in a hostile environment, it should have woken everybody up and made everybody grow some hair.”

Perhaps that occurs Saturday, with Maryland needing a jolt after last week’s loss to Middle Tennessee and Rutgers entering with a dicey quarterback situation. Freshman starter Tom Savage left last week’s defeat of Florida International after getting knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter. Senior Dom Natale likely would start if Savage is held out.

Regardless of who is under center, it is crucial for the Terps to shed their miscues if they are to be considered more than a mediocre lot.

“When we get out there doing everything right, people will see Maryland’s just not a young team,” linebacker Adrian Moten said. “They’ll see we’re talented and we have great guys. I just think that one game when we explode on somebody, they’re going to be like, ‘Whoa, who was this team? I haven’t seen this team the past three weeks.’ ”

No one has. The opening blowout at California was forgivable on several levels, but the close call against James Madison and last week’s loss did little but foster the belief the Terps’ ceiling isn’t particularly high. For that to change, so too must the tolerance of inexperience - lest it turn into a talking point for the entirety of a long season.

“We have to reinforce that very idea that win or lose, you have to play well,” Turner said. “There is no excuse.”

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