By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008 10:32 PM
During training camp, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen assumed the role of the charmer, strengthening relationships with players. Before last week's California game, he became the challenger, flaming players' tempers after a humiliating loss. And this week, he at times played entertainer, demanding attention at one point by dancing (okay, jumping) to the beat of popular music blaring during the latter stages of practice.
After exhausting several motivation approaches in recent weeks, Friedgen and assistant coaches have now made a sharp pivot, placing the onus squarely on the shoulders of players to start displaying consistency on a game-to-game basis. Last week's victory over California mitigated the damage from the loss at Middle Tennessee two weeks ago, but the Terrapins are still trying to shake the label of being consistently inconsistent.
"They have to decide what they want to be," offensive coordinator James Franklin said of players. "Do they want to be average? Do they want to be good? Do they want to be great? It's easy to come out and try to be great one day. It's another to come out every single day, get ready for practice, tie your shoes, put your pads on and decide you are going to grow, get better and live up to your potential. We have not done that yet. It's still an evolution."
For many teams from power conferences, today's game against Eastern Michigan (1-2) would serve as a tune-up for the conference season. The Eagles have not had a winning season since 1995. They have been outscored 83-27 in their last two games. And they have never beaten a school from a BCS conference.
But nothing is guaranteed for Maryland, whose players, almost to a man, admitted to Friedgen during camp that inconsistency was their primary weakness. Multiple players told Friedgen this week that the California victory marked the start of a new season and that Friedgen did not have to reference the Middle Tennessee State game anymore because players had learned the lesson. Friedgen does not want to take any chances.
"Eighteen- to 22-year-olds have short memories," Friedgen said. "I'm hoping they remember how it was two weeks ago and what they felt and how they felt this week. There is a large difference between the two. I think I will remind them of that tomorrow."
Friedgen's theme is to play this game better than Maryland played last week. Players said they are approaching Eastern Michigan as if the Eagles were undefeated and nationally ranked.
"That's the idea," quarterback Chris Turner said. "It hurt so much more after beating Cal and knowing we lost to Middle Tennessee. We don't want to go through that again. We want to murder Eastern Michigan."
Friedgen said the team overall has demonstrated better focus in practice this week compared to the week leading up to the Middle Tennessee game. But he said this team has been hard to read emotionally all season. The lackluster practices and walk-through before the MTSU game resulted in the worst loss of Friedgen's head coaching career. But Friedgen had a more difficult time gauging the team's mood in the day's before the California game.
When Friedgen gave his spirited, go-get-Cal-when-it-gets-off-the-bus speech the night before the game, players sat stone-faced. And Friedgen was so concerned about the lack of emotion in pregame warm-ups that he broke the ice by cracking a joke about defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo as Friedgen made the rounds to shake hands with players. Despite the lack of visible emotion, once the game started, Maryland dominated the first three quarters.
When Maryland took a 28-6 lead, however, Friedgen felt his team start to relax. So he went into the huddle on the sideline and got into players' faces, urging them to finish off the Golden Bears. Friedgen said players looked at him like he were crazy.
At times, he faces similar challenges in practice. While he doesn't expect every practice to be flawless, he does expect a certain level of effort and attention to detail.
"A guy not to give effort when you've got a chance to move up from the 'look' team, it blows my mind," Friedgen said. "It is beyond my comprehension. I might make a lot of mistakes, but one of them wouldn't be effort . These guys say, 'I'm tired, Coach, what the hell are you thinking?' " It's a different world, a generation gap, I think."
Franklin said that he is still looking for offensive veterans to take control, set the tone and show guys how to work in practice, adding: "We have not learned that yet." But as Friedgen told players this week: "The sand is going out of the hourglass."
Frustrated by the lack of consistency in recent weeks but pleased with last week's performance, Friedgen has delivered a clear message to a senior laden team: "It's in their hands, not mine."
Terrapins Notes: Running back Da'Rel Scott (left shoulder) practiced Wednesday and Thursday, performing non-contact drills, but he remains questionable for the game . . . Friedgen said he will stick with kicker Obi Egekeze even though the senior has missed all five of his field-goal attempts this season.