On Monday, Maryland players lifted weights, watched tape and gathered for their team picture. Most importantly, they received a stern challenge from their coach, who outlined the remainder of his fourth season at Maryland in blunt terms.
"We have seven games left," Coach Ralph Friedgen told the team. "We can win all of those games or lose all of them. That's the way it is in our league right now."
The remaining teams on Maryland's schedule have a combined record of 16-9. One opponent, Virginia, is undefeated. And only one, Clemson at 1-3, has a losing record, although the Tigers are expected to be quite formidable before 81,000 at home Oct. 23.
During a news conference yesterday, Friedgen spoke of a sense of "urgency" within the program as it enters its first bye week. The team can either galvanize itself as it did last season after a 7-3 defeat to Georgia Tech. Or it can fray and squander a chance at a fourth consecutive bowl game appearance.
Sensing the team is beat up and tired, Friedgen has lightened the players' responsibilities this week, concentrating on healing bruises and refining fundamentals. The team took yesterday off and will participate in only a combined 31/2 hours of practice over the next three days.
"I hope I'm making the right call. It's just a feeling I have," said Friedgen, who paused before adding, "As I get older, I think more is not necessarily better."
ACC coaches say they handle bye weeks differently depending upon the makeup of their team and the time at which the open date occurs in the season.
Virginia Coach Al Groh, for example, said he hasn't made dramatic personnel or scheme changes during a bye week and that many of the more significant changes came during a typical game week. "It doesn't necessarily have to be during an off-week for us to address it," Groh said.
North Carolina State Coach Chuck Amato practiced his team hard during his team's bye week prior to its Sept. 18 game against Ohio State.
"I handled the open date differently than I would if it was later in the season because we're in an early mode as far as team is concerned and getting some kids experienced," said Amato, whose team lost to Ohio State. "We practiced harder during this open date than what we would later in the season."
Friedgen said that if the team is playing at a high level, he would rather not interrupt momentum with a bye week. While Friedgen saw his team grow tougher from its overtime loss at West Virginia on Sept. 18, he has welcomed the off-week, knowing that Maryland needs to play better than it did against Duke to beat Georgia Tech on Oct. 9.
When the 24th-ranked Terps (3-1) next take the field, first and foremost, they need to cut down on turnovers. They rank 108th nationally with 12 turnovers. Quarterback Joel Statham leads the ACC in total offense but has seven interceptions and has struggled making option pitches.
While incorrect formations and tipped passes have led to some interceptions, Friedgen estimated 60 percent of the interceptions could have been avoided.
"If we're going to have a good football team," Friedgen said, "he's going to have to continue to improve, as will our other young players."
Terrapins Notes: H-back Vernon Davis received ACC player of the week honors after his three-touchdown performance Saturday against Duke. "A lot of times he's the first option on his routes," Friedgen said. . . .
The Georgia Tech game will take place at 3:30 p.m. and be televised regionally on ABC. . . .
Defensive end Kevin Eli (concussion) underwent an exam to determine his status for the Georgia Tech game. Linebacker Jeris Smith (stress fracture) and defensive end Shawne Merriman (shoulder) will rest this week. Freshman linebacker Eric Lenz (spinal injury) likely will be redshirted, but Friedgen said doctors have indicated that the injury is not career threatening.