When Maryland returned to practice last night, players appeared to be more emotionally inspired than many of them looked in Saturday's 16-0 loss to Virginia. The season, Coach Ralph Friedgen's most difficult in his four-year head coaching tenure, has included several extreme emotional swings and the Terps hope for one more to finish the season.
Friedgen reminded players about how down they felt after the loss to Clemson on Oct. 23 and how those emotions were washed away the following week with the upset of then-No. 5 Florida State. Now, the victory against the Seminoles seems like a distant memory after the Virginia loss.
"The Florida State win was probably the biggest win in Maryland history," defensive end Shawne Merriman said. "The loss against Virginia, the way they stuffed us, was probably the biggest loss in my history here. It's pretty bad."
Yet Maryland (4-5, 2-4 ACC) still has a chance, although improbable, to claim a fourth consecutive bowl berth. To do so, the Terps need to beat Virginia Tech on Thursday and win their season finale against Wake Forest.
Some players, including Merriman, disagreed with Friedgen's assessment that some players looked like "zombies" during the loss to Virginia. "That's a little bit harsh," Merriman said. "I don't think we came out like zombies, to me personally. I think we came out a bit flat. The Florida State game took a lot out of us. But that doesn't mean we let Virginia run the ball down our throats. They had a lot of yards, but they didn't have a lot of points. There's a lot to be said for that."
Last night, Friedgen directed the blame more at himself for the team's performance.
"I didn't do a very good job getting them ready to play," Friedgen said. "It wasn't everybody. Some kids just had a look. It was just not there. Obviously, they can't see that. But they know they didn't play as well as they are capable of playing."
Friedgen said the team was in better spirits last night and players were "probably a little better [emotionally inspired] than I thought they'd be, to be honest with you."
Friedgen closed practice this week because he was concerned about news regarding player injuries leaking out. He said Wednesday that he was glad to have an open date this week because, had Maryland been scheduled to play, he might have had a difficult time fielding a team.
Last night, though, he said the team isn't as banged up as it was entering the Virginia game. Wide receiver Steve Suter returned to practice last night after missing the Virginia game because of a hamstring injury. Friedgen said the senior was able to compete at full speed.
Offensive linemen Brandon Nixon and Scott Burley both practiced but are still somewhat hobbled. Wide receivers Jo Jo Walker (concussion) and Dan Melendez (hamstring) remain out, and Walker is doubtful for the Virginia Tech game. Another wide receiver, Drew Weatherly, returned to practice last night.
Starting quarterback Joel Statham practiced last night after injuring his collarbone in the first half against Virginia. Friedgen said Statham is expected to start against Virginia Tech, but freshman backup Jordan Steffy has recently made significant strides.
"I see Jordan progressing right now," Friedgen said. "He's not playing like a freshman."
Maryland held several players-only meetings this season but, Merriman said, everyone should know what is expected at this point of the season. "You could have 1,000 meetings in one season," Merriman said, "but it doesn't mean anything if everyone is not buying into it and putting everything on the field."