The speakers blasted their typical clamor during Thursday's practice, showering Maryland's players with a hail of whistles, boos and cheers. Such piped-in crowd noise typically prepares the Terps for a game-day environment. But with Maryland heading to Philadelphia to face lowly Temple this afternoon in what promises to be a subdued Lincoln Financial Field, the jarring sounds seemed out of proportion to the task at hand, like popping in a Korn CD on the way to a Wiggles concert.
"You never know, there might be a sudden burst of enthusiasm," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said wryly. "Forty thousand people might show up."
Unlikely. Temple's last home game, against Western Michigan, drew an announced crowd of 8,922 in an NFL stadium that seats more than 68,000. According to media reports, perhaps a quarter of that sparse crowd was on hand for kickoff.
The game is not televised, and Friedgen has asked Maryland fans to make the drive north on I-95. The Maryland ticket office has sold approximately 1,500 tickets for today's game, and starting quarterback Sam Hollenbach -- from the outer Philadelphia suburb of Sellersville -- said he will have about 100 family members and friends in attendance. Still, after Maryland played in front of a roaring homecoming crowd during last week's crucial win over Virginia, today promises a change of pace.
"You go up there and there's not going to be anybody in the stands, it's not going to be like it was here last week. That's kind of a downer to start with," Friedgen said. "And then Temple's got everything to gain and nothing to lose. We've got to understand that we have to have this game if we want to go to a bowl game. If we want to accomplish the things that we have to accomplish, we have to win this football game. And it doesn't really matter whether it's Temple or whether it's Ohio State or Penn State, we've got to go out and play."
And thus, one of the themes of the past week has been avoiding a hiccup. Coaches have carefully monitored the intensity level in practice -- and have mostly been satisfied in that regard -- while players have mouthed platitudes about playing one game at a time and not ignoring the Owls.
"Their record doesn't show what type of team they can be," nose tackle Conrad Bolston said.
That record is 0-5, and despite Bolston's words, it might not do justice to the Owls' ineptitude. They lost 63-16 to Arizona State. They lost 65-0 to Wisconsin. Last week brought a 70-7 loss to Bowling Green, a member of the Mid-American Conference that Temple is in the process of joining.
Temple is 116th out of 117 Division I-A teams in scoring defense, meaning the team likely will have to rely on its strength: a 113th-ranked scoring offense.
So rather than obsess about their opponent, the Terps have concentrated on erasing missed assignments and putting together a complete team performance before entering the season's second half.
"Just tune up and get both sides of the ball clicking, be working for perfection and precision," cornerback Josh Wilson said. "Just like in track, no matter what your competition is you're supposed to go out there and run your fastest. If you set a world record, it doesn't matter who you're running against."
Soon enough, the competition will be running plenty fast. After Temple, Maryland faces No. 3 Virginia Tech in a nationally televised Thursday night game. Then comes No. 4 Florida State in Tallahassee, where Maryland has never won.
Today's game, then, offers a last chance to work younger players into the lineup and fix any lingering mistakes.
"People look at Temple and say they're not a competitive school or it should be an easy win or something, but I think it's important for our guys not to go out and have that frame of mind," safety Milton Harris said. "Because then it's going to be hard for you to try to jump back up the next week when we go against Virginia Tech. And we're going to need everybody at their best a week from Thursday night."