Terps Lose Gamble, Hold On

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Maryland had lost three of its first four games, a vocal segment of its fan base was growing impatient -- if not mutinous -- and its players were growing tired of having to answer the same question every week: How does this keep happening?

So with just more than six minutes remaining and the Terrapins leading Clemson by three, there was little debate about what to do on fourth and inches: Maryland was going for it.

Quarterback Chris Turner plunged to his left. Normally, he would have been able to run behind Bruce Campbell, but the massive left tackle had left the game during the previous offensive series with a knee injury. Turner lost his footing. Even still, "I thought I had it," Turner said.

He didn't. Clemson took over on downs, already in field goal position for strong-legged place kicker Richard Jackson. In the hour following Maryland's 24-21 victory over Clemson, the details of the game's most crucial decision came forth, but this much was clear: The choice to go for it was more important than the outcome of the play itself.

"There comes a point when you've got to go win the game," said James Franklin, Maryland's offensive coordinator. "At some point you've just got to say, 'Look, we're going to believe in our guys and we're going to go win the game and stop them.' They were very good up front and it probably wasn't the greatest call, but as an offensive coordinator I would hope that we can get three inches."

After Turner had rushed for no gain on third and one, Coach Ralph Friedgen waited until one second remained on the play clock and called his first timeout of the half. "I wanted to think about it," Friedgen said.

He spoke to defensive coordinator Don Brown, who told his boss the defense would hold if the offense came up short.

"I'm lucky I didn't get fired today because it might have been the emotions getting the best of me," Brown said. "To be honest, it was six inches and I thought that would be a huge nail in the coffin."

Friedgen spoke to Franklin, who in recent weeks had adamantly pined for the opportunity to go for it on fourth-down plays. He even heard from players, who also were in favor of keeping the punter on the bench.

"I do stuff like that on Madden all the time," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It can go either way.

"Our defense was playing well so we believe that if anything they can hold them to a field goal."

Friedgen said he changed his mind three times before finally electing to send the offense back onto the field. "Four inches," the coach said. "You've got to make it."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company