The state of his Maryland team, talented yet youthful, has made Coach Ralph Friedgen acquire one characteristic he has always lacked: patience.
Never during Saturday's 23-20 season-opening victory over Northern Illinois did he consider switching quarterbacks, even after starter Joel Statham fumbled three times in the first quarter. Never did he grow angry with his players, even as the Terps were on the verge of losing to a team led by a quarterback who had never before thrown a pass in a college game.
While preparing for the short term, which means Temple on Saturday, Friedgen is building his team for the latter portion of the schedule, which is significantly more difficult.
"You all know I'm not very patient, and I'm really trying to work on it," Friedgen said yesterday. "I think they know I am with them and I'm with Joel. And we're going to get better together, not apart."
After watching the Northern Illinois film, the Terps' coaching staff noted 18 mental errors by the offense, which was fewer than it committed in the team's intrasquad scrimmage. Of the five penalties assessed against Maryland, three, Friedgen said, could have gone either way.
The staff was pleased that there were no offside penalties, communication lapses or alignment miscues. Although disappointed with Maryland's four turnovers, Friedgen saw a difference in the team's personality from years past.
Two years ago, Friedgen remembered observing what he called "far-away looks" from young players during the Terps' season-opening 22-0 loss to Notre Dame. And last year, he said, panic set in on the sideline to some extent during Northern Illinois' 20-13 overtime victory.
On Saturday, Friedgen instead saw determined faces. Even Statham, struggling with the one play (option) he had been groomed to run, remained optimistic on the sideline, saying: "Can't get any worse. I'll be fine."
Despite the fumbles, Friedgen felt Statham (12-of-22 passing) exhibited better composure in his first start than predecessor Scott McBrien, who was replaced at one point in the Notre Dame game by Chris Kelley. Expect the Terps to refine executing the option this week, though, because Friedgen believes it plays to his quarterback's strength.
On second and five from the Maryland 7-yard line on Saturday, the Terps still called the option, evidence of the staff's confidence in Statham's ability to execute the play. The problem, Friedgen said after watching the film, was that the ball slipped out of the hands of Statham, who admittedly was nervous early in the game. Josh Allen recovered but was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
On the first option toss earlier in the quarter, Statham simply made an errant pitch to tailback Sammy Maldonado. Had it been a sound toss, Friedgen said, it likely would have led to a long gain, if not a touchdown, and filled Statham with early confidence.
Regardless, the team's focus now turns to Temple, which lost to Virginia, 44-14, on Saturday. "I think what we've got to do," Friedgen said, "is accentuate the positives, get rid of the negatives, and let's go."