Maryland's Season No Longer Going Downhill
Saturday, November 17, 2007
To reach the football complex at the University of Maryland, players must make a short walk down a hill to reach the front door. Terrapins linebacker Erin Henderson said that, for a while this season, his daily walk down that hill had become a study in depression, which was easily visible on the faces of his teammates. Coach Ralph Friedgen and the rest of his weary staff felt the same strains, ignoring occasional blowups at one another to put in the overtime required to break the team out of a three-game losing streak.
"Three weeks is a long time to go without a win," said Friedgen, who wondered just how much longer his injury-plagued team could press on without the reward of a victory.
Perhaps that is why the Terrapins (5-5) believe last week's upset of then-No. 8 Boston College could be the event that turns around their season, a process they hope continues in today's game against Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.
"It's a whole new team, it feels like," Terrapins safety Christian Varner said.
As much as it was a meaningful victory, the upset of the Eagles also was a mass catharsis for the Terrapins, a group that had admittedly not recovered from a crushing loss to rival Virginia on Oct. 20. The result had a rejuvenating effect on a team that had been beleaguered by injuries and close losses.
"That was basically our recovery right there," Varner said. "That saved our spirits right there. That brought us back. It gave us some hope for these last two games, because if we didn't pull that out, I'm not sure what would have happened."
The Terrapins' problems have not totally faded. Maryland's banged-up offensive line likely will play without injured starting left tackle Scott Burley and preseason all-ACC guard Andrew Crummey, whose bid to return early from a broken fibula fell short. Guard Phil Costa is expected play despite suffering a stinger last week, as is guard Jack Griffin, who suffered a shoulder injury.
Maryland's injury situation remains so dire that Friedgen limited contact during practice this week, a departure from what he has done in the past.
Even when the Terrapins received encouraging news on the injury front -- starting tight end Dan Gronkowski might return from a knee injury today and Henderson likely will play despite lingering back spasms -- another injury takes its place. Wide receiver LaQuan Williams will miss the rest of the regular season after suffering a knee sprain at practice this week.
Still, the victory against Boston College has altered the Terrapins' overall outlook entering the matchup at Florida State.
"I still feel we have an opportunity to finish pretty good," Friedgen said. "This is a big game."
While Maryland aims for bowl eligibility, the Seminoles (6-4) hope to improve their postseason bowl standing. A victory also would mark another milestone for Seminoles Coach Bobby Bowden, who enters the game with 299 victories at Florida State.
While the Terrapins have won two of their last three against the Seminoles, Maryland is 0-8 against Florida State in Tallahassee.
"We've never won there," said Terrapins quarterback Chris Turner, who is scheduled to make his sixth career start. "That means it's that much more important."
Maryland, which concludes its regular season at North Carolina State, can lock up its second straight postseason appearance by winning its final two games, though finishing with a 6-6 mark could be enough to land an invitation. Still, Friedgen would rather be assured of a bowl trip, a goal that's still within reach if the Terrapins prove they can close during the season's critical stretch run.
"They have punched through, and now there's a tendency to go 'ahhh,' " said Friedgen, who let out a sigh of relief. "And we can't go 'ahhh.' The prize comes at the end of the season."