Maryland football pounds Wake Forest to become bowl eligible

Adam Moten, left, congratulates fellow linebaker Ryan Donohue, right, after Donohue ran a third-quarter interception back for a touchdown.
Adam Moten, left, congratulates fellow linebaker Ryan Donohue, right, after Donohue ran a third-quarter interception back for a touchdown. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 2:00 AM

Like a child who charts height with penciled wall markings, Maryland has found the growth process slow and agonizing the past 14 months. The rebuilding Terrapins have gradually evolved from a fragile, infantile state into a team mature enough to break a two-year road losing streak.

But Saturday's 62-14 rout of hapless Wake Forest represented something more substantial: a visible growth spurt for a team that now can be called a full-fledged contender in the ACC's Atlantic Division. While they have yet to beat a conference team with a winning record, the Terrapins (6-2, 3-1 ACC) have already ensured plenty before November: They tripled their 2009 win total and became bowl eligible for the seventh time in Coach Ralph Friedgen's 10 seasons.

After North Carolina State beat Florida State on Thursday - an outcome that muddled the division race - Friedgen immediately sent a teamwide text message that read: "If you guys want to compete for a championship, we must beat Wake." The next night, in a two-minute meeting in the team hotel, Friedgen went further, asking players one question, "What do you want to be - a pretender or a contender?"

And on Saturday night, after Maryland matched its highest point total ever against an ACC team, Friedgen's voice choked with emotion several times during a news conference that was as much about last season as it was about this season.

"I asked the kids to make a statement," Friedgen said. "I think they did."

Friedgen twice fielded questions about what the turnaround means for him personally. But he steered away and spoke of the journey of players that, he said, took beatings by critics and opponents last season yet maintained enthusiasm to keep his spirits high. Nevertheless, the progression stands as a significant achievement for a coach who sweated out his future 11 months ago and entered this season with tenuous job security.

"I always expected this" turnaround, Friedgen said. "I really have."

"We expected to be in this position," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "No one else expected it."

The Terrapins still have beaten only one division I-A team (Navy) with a winning record - and some of the remaining games are the toughest of the season - but the team's rise from rock bottom last season is unmistakable.

Before a modest homecoming crowd of 39,063 at Byrd Stadium, Maryland blocked two punts, returned two interceptions (by safety Kenny Tate and linebacker Ryan Donohue) for touchdowns and saw quarterback Danny O'Brien throw a career-high four touchdown passes and set a Maryland freshman record for completions (95) in a season. Meanwhile, Wake Forest (2-6, 1-4) made a compelling argument to be called the worst team in the league.

Friedgen had been concerned this week with how his players would handle last weekend's success at Boston College, saying that he has been drumming home the notion of consistency by having players wear T-shirts that read, "The difference between good and great is that great is consistently good."

As it turned out, anxiety was unnecessary. Only one defensively challenged, mistake-prone team took the field Saturday and played like last season's feeble version of the Terrapins. It wasn't Maryland.

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