Lack of Consistency Has Been a Constant for Maryland

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A few days after Maryland's baffling loss at Virginia on Oct. 4, Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen considered a reporter's question about practice plans before saying with a straight face that he intended to take his players to a Zen master so they can find inner peace and strengthen their psyches through meditation.

A team with two distinct personalities has left an often exasperated Friedgen grasping for humor. One week, his Terrapins look like an ACC title contender, resilient and physical; the next week, they look so passive and inept that Friedgen tells reporters they must be wondering whether he threw the game.

Halfway through the season, neither Maryland's coaches nor some players have any idea which team will take the field, and the team's erratic persona has frustrated coaches, confused players and baffled fans because there is no consensus on the cause or the remedy.

"You definitely have Jekyll-and-Hyde teams," said John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla. "It is the age-old question: How do you fight nature? Nature is to go up and down, up and down. It is called regression to the mean. What's bizarre tends to go back toward normal."

In Maryland's case, what is normal? Two of the worst losses of Friedgen's head coaching career -- against Middle Tennessee and Virginia -- have offset two victories over nationally ranked opponents, California and Clemson. Mentioning the Terrapins among the ACC's best teams is fair, but so is mentioning them among the conference's worst.

"I completely agree," center Edwin Williams said of the team's up-and-down nature. "We probably had our best focus in practice before the Virginia game, then we laid an egg."

College football annually offers examples of schools raising their performance for one game before regressing. Stanford's upset of Southern California last season was an anomaly because the Cardinal ultimately returned to its usual place at the bottom of the Pacific-10 Conference hierarchy. And after opening this season with victories over Virginia Tech and West Virginia, East Carolina has lost three straight games and looks mediocre.

But few teams this season have been as consistently inconsistent as the Terrapins. Just two other teams, Oregon State and Mississippi State, have beaten a team ranked in the top 25 and also have lost a game this season by at least 31 points, the margin of Maryland's loss at Virginia.

Based on this season's first-half performance, Maryland senior cornerback Kevin Barnes agreed with the notion that the Terrapins are capable of winning or losing any of their six remaining regular season games by any margin.

"I can't put my finger on it," Barnes said of the reason. "It has been like that since I have been here. The last five years, something I just don't understand."

When asked to explain the wild swings in performance week to week, quarterback Chris Turner said, "I can't."

Part of the issue speaks to motivation, or lack thereof. Players believed they sleepwalked against Middle Tennessee. They grew angry against California on Sept. 13. And Barnes said they exhibited a lackluster attitude against Virginia even though the Cavaliers are a rival that had beaten Maryland last season.

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