By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
In their previous two night games, Maryland's football players engaged in the same routine: During the sunlight of game day, they spent hours upon hours fidgeting, napping, watching television and otherwise killing time in an unfamiliar hotel. By nightfall, they looked unfocused and were thoroughly outclassed by seemingly inferior opponents.
No one is blaming the two losses solely on too much downtime, but Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen is not taking any chances for the team's third night game of the season Thursday at Virginia Tech. The Terrapins will arrive at their team hotel later than usual Wednesday and are expected to fill game day Thursday with more meetings to keep players' minds occupied and focused.
"I am trying to see if that makes a difference," Friedgen said.
The 23rd-ranked Terrapins, who are in sole possession of first place in the ACC's Atlantic Division, have won six day games and lost their only two night games in decisive and stunning fashion.
"I don't think it contributed to the losses," quarterback Chris Turner said. "I just don't like it. I don't think it makes us play any better or worse, but if you ask most people, they don't like sitting around all day waiting."
On Sept. 6, Maryland was two big plays from being shut out by a Middle Tennessee team that has won just one other game this season. And on Oct. 4, the Terrapins looked so dysfunctional in every measurable way at Virginia that Friedgen said reporters must be wondering whether he threw the game.
Players have accepted responsibility for two of the worst losses in Friedgen's head coaching career, but they acknowledge that waiting around all day for kickoff was draining and said they would have preferred to have played earlier in the day.
"To attribute the losses to that, I don't think so," offensive lineman Dane Randolph said. "It is just a long time to wait."
Randolph said evening road games are the only occasions in which the players spend at least 24 hours at the team hotel. Consider the Virginia game: The team bus was scheduled to arrive at the Doubletree Charlottesville at 12:45 p.m. Friday and players did not leave for Scott Stadium until 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Between check-in and check-out, players ate lunch, killed time, attended unit meetings, took part in a devotional, killed time, attended more meetings, ate a snack and killed more time.
On Oct. 4, players were scheduled to wake up at 10 a.m., but some got up earlier because they were not used to sleeping late. They attended an optional team breakfast at 10:30, a walk-through in the parking lot between 11:15 and 11:45, and then had more than four hours to kill before boarding the bus for the stadium.
While night games, particularly Thursday nights at Lane Stadium, provide prominent stages, players said the benefit of early games is that they wake up immediately ready to play because the game plan and key points are fresh in their minds from the meetings the night before. For night games, they spend hours watching the clock tick.
"It's definitely a different environment when you go to those hotels and have all day," Randolph said. "Lots of sleeping. Some games might be on TV."
With time to burn, Turner said he typically watches football games, but if he sees a quarterback make a bad pass or get sacked, he senses bad karma. He quickly snatches the remote and switches to another game.
"Negative energy," he said. "I do not need that. If I am watching a game and it's not a good vibe, I just turn the game off."
Turner usually tries to find Texas Tech's game to see prolific quarterback Graham Harrell whip the ball around the field with abandon. But not everyone watches games. Some take naps, others get lost in their own thoughts.
Once, Randolph went to center Edwin Williams's room to charge his music player and noticed the television off.
"You don't even watch TV?" Randolph asked. Williams said, "No TV. That's tradition."
Many players occasionally get absorbed in a movie right before they need to leave for the bus. A few weeks ago it was "Hook," the Peter Pan movie that players continued to talk about on the bus ride to the stadium.
Friedgen hopes to reduce excess downtime this week; the team is expected to arrive at its Roanoke hotel at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Soon after, players will eat dinner, attend one meeting and save other meetings for Thursday to "try to take up some of that day," Friedgen said.
With no matinee football on television on Thursdays, players may have to choose from among "The View," "All My Children" and "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." On a positive note, Randolph and Turner noted that players are allowed to buy two on-demand hotel movies during trips for Thursday night games.
"But we won't be able to watch them because we won't be there as long as we normally are," Randolph said. "I think that will help."