The previous two games, his team had been trampled, by No. 1 Michigan and undefeated Georgia Tech. The final four games -- so Byrd Stadium renovations could begin in decent weather -- will all be on the road. Joe Krivak saw his Maryland Terrapins stumble and fumble through practices Tuesday and Wednesday and realized this was his last chance to grab hold of his team and make something of this season.
The 41-13 victory over Wake Forest at Byrd yesterday was the result of Troy Jackson's 152 yards rushing, Scott Zolak's 14-for-18 passing and four forced turnovers, all involving cornerback Michael Hollis. But more than all of that, it was the result of Krivak using all the resources available to an old pro, even if it meant stepping out of character and daring to take risks.
The week really began Wednesday, by which time Krivak had seen two listless, lifeless practices. He met with his coaching staff and decided to ease up in practice. A lot. Michigan and Georgia Tech had beaten Maryland psychologically as well as physically. " 'Let's change this up,' " Krivak said he told his coaches. "I was afraid we were tired. We had just gotten laced two weeks in a row and I was afraid if we didn't change up, if we didn't cut back some, we may just go through the motions."
To make sure the Terps knew exactly what was going on, Krivak called a short team meeting to declare he wasn't taking a shortcut, but was trying to let them recuperate. "It's a critical week because there was still hope," Krivak said. The players were relieved.
Then after practice Thursday, Krivak stepped completely out of character. He delivered fire and brimstone. Krivak, for those who don't know him, is a study in reason. The professor, the man in the film room. He transferred his knowledge to Boomer, to Frank Reich, to Stan Gelbaugh, to Neil O'Donnell, all NFL quarterbacks. In the 12 seasons he has been here (the last four as head coach), it seems Krivak never has raised his voice. He has a word for rah-rah, win-one-for-the-Gipper, chair-throwing, hell-raising speeches: "Boomalacka." There's really such a word. Probably, somebody at Notre Dame thought of it.
Wherever it comes from, Krivak doesn't like Boomalacka. But that's what spilled out Thursday. After a few words, Zolak recalled snapping to attention and thinking: "Whoa, look at this guy, he's all red and fiery. Will you look at Coach Krivak!"
Cutting through the bluster, Krivak told his team it had won three games by sticking together, that a victory over Wake Forest would make the season record 4-3 with losses to Clemson, Michigan and Georgia Tech, all ranked in the top 20, two in the hunt for a national title. "I didn't want them to think there was no light at the end of the tunnel," Krivak said, blushing slightly at the mention of his tirade.
As long as Krivak had the Terrapins' attention, he told them how they would attack Wake Forest. By running the ball every down if necessary. The best way to get your confidence back after getting beat up is to beat up somebody else. So even though Maryland was averaging 56 yards rushing per game, Krivak would have his team -- a passing team -- run the ball.
"Quite frankly I had some doubts about it," Krivak said after the victory. One offensive lineman had his knee 'scoped during the week, and Krivak was trying a new player at guard. Still, he was going with the run.
Few coaches in the country are capable of putting together an offensive game plan as well as Krivak, though. Zolak would hand off, but he would have audibles for virtually every running play. Usually, when a running play is called, it is meant to go a certain direction, period.
Not this time. Zolak could play with the H-back, he could call for Jackson, Darren Colvin, Andre Vaughn or Mark Mason to go in any direction. He had all kinds of freedom. Here's the complicated method Zolak used to determine which direction to run: "I just picked the side with the least number of guys."
The common-sense approach helped Jackson rush for 107 yards on his first 14 carries, 80 on his first 10. Zolak threw once on the first touchdown drive, three times in 11 plays on the third scoring drive. In all, Maryland rushed 66 times for 280 yards. The Terrapins were rested and in tune with everything Krivak wanted. The team awarded the coach the game ball.
"There were no guarantees that what I was trying would work," Krivak said. "It was just something I did. It wasn't planned, it just happened. I guess they knew I was sincere."
Zolak came right out and said it: "He kept this thing from slipping. He told us, 'We're not out of anything.' He woke us up before it was too late."
Why all the fuss over a 4-3 record and a win over Wake Forest? Because the next two games are against Duke and North Carolina, teams Maryland should beat. That would make the Terrapins 6-3. The game after that is Penn State. Virginia, which likely will be ranked No. 1 and playing for an undefeated season, is the finale. Both are big games, national TV games, the kind you use to recruit a great player or two to fill up the new stadium. One big victory could get Maryland into a bowl game. What more could a team nobody picked to win more than three games ask for?
The problem is, all the games are on the road. Some teams play three straight on the road, but nobody does four. It's suicide. Krivak said he won't address it. "They can reason," he said. "They know what's ahead. We've got to play like hell the next two weeks, then we take a stretch run the last two weeks."
Four straight on the road typifies Maryland's athletic misfortunes the last four years. Here's Krivak with a team with the 10th-toughest schedule in the country, expected to win next to nothing, and it can't catch a break the last month of the season.
Someone asked Krivak if he'd ever played four straight on the road and how he'd cope with it. "I've learned," he said, "to do a lot of things for the first time over the last four years."