In Ralph Friedgen's first four years at Maryland, he never started a true freshman before a season's midway point.
That changed this year, when defensive end Jeremy Navarre took the field during the Terps' season-opening win over Navy, and Navarre might yet have company. Left tackle Jared Gaither -- whose 6-foot-9, 330-pound size has tantalized Maryland's coaches for months -- saw his first action in Saturday's loss to Clemson, and figures to play a larger role in upcoming weeks.
But while Friedgen would dearly love to insert Gaither into a full-time slot, boosting the line's size and allowing undersize starter Derek Miller to move back to tight end, the coach said yesterday that because of Gaither's inexperience such a switch won't occur for at least another week.
Maryland's rushing game all but disappeared in Saturday's 28-24 loss, stopping the Terps from milking the clock when they had a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Also, quarterback Sam Hollenbach was sacked three times and hit hard on at least four other occasions. In addition to Gaither, three redshirt freshman linemen -- Edwin Williams, Jaimie Thomas and Dane Randolph -- played Saturday, as did freshman wide receivers Isaiah Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Still, Friedgen said no lineup changes are imminent.
"I'm encouraged that they came in and got their feet wet," he said of the freshman linemen. "I would love to say that's the cure-all, but I don't think it is."
Indeed, there were plenty of problems that needed curing Saturday. Hollenbach missed several open receivers, Friedgen said, including one on Maryland's final possession. The running backs, chiefly starter Mario Merrills, didn't show the necessary burst at the line of scrimmage, averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Pre-snap confusion twice caused Maryland to waste timeouts. There were three sloppy trips inside the 10-yard line: Once the Terps settled for a field goal, another time they needed four plays to reach the end zone and a third time Hollenbach lost a fumble.
A secondary limited by injuries to Christian Varner, J.J. Justice and Isaiah Gardner was embarrassed on a 51-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. And, of course, there were 98 yards of penalties, more than the Terps had given away since November 2002.
Friedgen was reluctant to comment on those flags yesterday, saying only that some of the five unsportsmanlike fouls called against Maryland could be whistled on virtually any play. Several of his players were particularly upset with a 15-yard late hit penalty on cornerback Gerrick McPhearson that seemed to shift the momentum in the fourth quarter.
Friedgen had no complaints about the holding penalty on Edwin Williams that disrupted what had been a promising final drive, turning a third and three into a second and 20. Williams even admitted to Friedgen he had been guilty.
"That's how young these guys are," Friedgen said. "An older guy would never admit that."