By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008
When Maryland visited Clemson's notoriously loud Memorial Stadium two years ago, center Edwin Williams had a problem every time then-quarterback Sam Hollenbach lined up in the shotgun. Williams could not hear the entire snap count.
For instance, when Williams expected to hear, "Blue 18! Blue 18! Set! Hut!" he instead heard, "Blue . . . Teen . . . Hut." So Williams did what any experienced lineman would do: he guessed. And he snapped the ball at times when Hollenbach's voice stopped.
"I was lucky," Williams said.
Maryland beat Clemson, 13-12, but the lesson was clear. Williams has been telling teammates all week that they had better be prepared for the loudest environment they will encounter in the ACC. The Terrapins did not fare well in their only road game this season at Middle Tennessee, where the lackluster ambience stands in sharp contrast to what Maryland will expect tomorrow when it faces No. 20 Clemson.
"The atmosphere is crazy, but it's actually what you expect in college football," Williams said. "It's kind of one of the things you look forward to. It is the toughest environment I have played in the ACC. There is orange everywhere, and fans seem as close as you are to me. It's ridiculous, and it's something you have to prepare for. You can't approach all games the same way."
The game will be decided by a number of factors. Terrapins quarterback Chris Turner has to play as consistently as he has the past two weeks against Eastern Michigan and California. Running back Da'Rel Scott, who is probable despite a shoulder sprain, needs to return to form after sitting out last Saturday's game. And the injury-depleted defense needs to shore up a unit that ranks 109th nationally against the pass.
But Coach Ralph Friedgen knows that another factor will be whether his team adjusts its mind-set and finds a way to feed off the hostile crowd in what is often referred to as Death Valley.
"That's a concern of mine," Friedgen said. "You have to block it out and have a lot of confidence in each other and in coaches and go out and perform. The better teams I have been on have used that energy for themselves. This is going to be a great environment to play in. If you are a young kid and you dream of playing major college football, this is one of the better places."
There was little energy to feed off of in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where the Terrapins stumbled to a 24-14 loss on Sept. 6 in the worst loss of Friedgen's head coaching career. The challenge for the Terrapins tomorrow is not whether they will be motivated for one of their toughest games of the season, but rather can they withstand an early surge by the Tigers, who will be fueled by the home crowd of 81,500.
"If they get up" early, Friedgen said, "it could be an issue with the crowd getting going."
Friedgen enters tomorrow's game with a 2-1 record at Memorial Stadium. The ACC road stadiums where Friedgen has had the most success have been Groves Stadium, where he is 3-1 against Wake Forest, and Carter-Finley Stadium, where he is 3-1 against North Carolina State. Conversely, Friedgen has yet to beat Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium, where he is 0-4. And Maryland has won just three of its last eight games away from Byrd Stadium.
Regardless of where the games are played, Friedgen said the key with this year's team remains focus and mental preparation. He practiced the team in a periodic rain storm yesterday afternoon, unwilling to yield to the elements because of the possibility of rain tomorrow. Thursday practices have not always been the best for Maryland this season, and Friedgen acknowledged that if his team lacks focus and is "somewhere else, we are very average."
Players said focus won't be an issue tomorrow, not with this being the ACC opener and Death Valley offering one of the toughest environments players will see in their career.
"I think we're going to be a little bit more awake this week than we were in Tennessee," defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said.
Terrapins Notes: Safety Terrell Skinner (leg) did not practice yesterday, but he has practiced all week and Friedgen hopes he will play tomorrow. . . . Cornerback Nolan Carroll (leg) will not play tomorrow. . . . Friedgen said quarterback Jordan Steffy (broken thumb) will be out at least another two weeks because the fifth-year senior still has trouble gripping the football.