Maryland Terrapins (2000: 5-6)
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Coach and programA jolly fat man appeared in College Park this winter with lots of packages. Offensive packages, that is. Multiple sets. A pro-style passing attack. A proven option game.
The new big man on campus was Ralph Friedgen, a 1969 Maryland graduate and an offensive trendsetter who has struck fear in the hearts of college and pro defenses and restaurant buffet lines for years. “Fridge” is a rookie head coach 33 years into his career and he’s chomping at the bit to run his own show -- especially at his alma mater.
The 54-year-old Friedgen has said he wants his presence to “be a uniting force for all Maryland people and return the program to where we feel it should be -- as one of the outstanding programs in the country.”
Good luck, Ralph.
The Terrapins have posted only one winning season since 1985. And 1985 was now four coaches ago at Maryland. The last three coaches, Ron Vanderlinden, Mark Duffner and Joe Krivak, combined for an average of less than four victories per season.
The Maryland program needed a boost and there’s nobody in the Metro area with a bad word for “Fridge.” He’s a personable, sincere guy and obviously, one heck of a football mind. His first spring practice was brutal for the players who were used to a more laid-back approach, but they’ve seen the results at Georgia Tech and have first-hand knowledge after two five-win seasons about just how hard it is to turn the corner and establish a winning program.
So can Friedgen do what the last three Maryland coaches couldn’t? Can he return Maryland football to the top of the ACC, and capture the imagination of a sports market that hasn’t had much reason to pay attention to Saturdays in Byrd? Can “Fridge” stock up on players from the rich local talent pool?
There are more questions in College Park this season than answers, but at least fans are talking Maryland football after a lackluster 2000 season.
OffenseIncumbent QB Shaun Hill (6-3, 235) got the keys to the offense early last season when sophomore starter Calvin McCall faltered. Hill, a transfer from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, won friends and games with his hard-nosed style.
Hill has surprised Friedgen with his ability to run the option, although Hill’s approach to running is more like that of a fullback than that of a quarterback. He’s not afraid to put his head down and plow over defenders.
When Hill turns around to hand off to a running back this season, he’ll have behind him a group of returnees who accounted for exactly 21 yards on 10 carries last year. Senior Marc Riley (6-3, 225) is battling redshirt sophomore Bruce Perry (5-9, 190) for the workload at tailback.
Not surprisingly, the wide receivers had difficulty in the spring with the nuances of Friedgen's offense. Still, senior Guilian Gary is destined for stardom this year no matter the offense. Last season, he led the team with 40 receptions, 568 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches.
Like receiver, tight end will be one of the squad’s deepest positions. Sophomore Jeff Dugan (6-4, 263) was second on the team last year with 25 receptions and he accounted for 319 yards in the passing game.
The centerpiece of the line is senior Melvin Fowler (6-3, 292), who Friedgen thinks is ready to be all-conference.
Defense and special teamsThe Maryland defense gave up so many big pass plays last season fans didn’t even notice opponents averaged 186 yards rushing per game and 4.1 yards per carry against the Terrapin ground defense.
And those problems all start up front. Now take away the unit’s best player, hulking Kris Jenkins, who was the first Terp taken in the NFL draft, and the forecast doesn’t look much better this season.
Of all the new assistant coaches, inside linebackers coach Rod Sharpless and outside linebackers coach Al Seamonson were dealt the best hands.
Senior Aaron Thompson (6-1, 234) is back to anchor the strong side. An acknowledged team leader, he has started every game of his college career and is the team’s returning leader with 6 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Junior E.J. Henderson (6-2, 238) is the emerging star in the middle.
The most maligned part of last season’s squad, the secondary, returns six of the top eight players. Maryland yielded 253.9 yards per game through the friendly skies and several young players got a baptism under fire.
Tony Okanlawon (5-11, 186) started every game last season and Curome Cox (6-1, 185) all but two. The safeties are solid with senior Tony Jackson (6-1, 209) on the strong side and senior Randall Jones (6-2, 233) stepping into Shawn Forte’s vacated free safety spot. Jackson was third on the team with 101 tackles and earned All-ACC honors in his first injury-free season.
It’s a sad testament that a highlight of Maryland’s 2000 season was the punting of Brooks Barnard (6-2, 182). The junior, a transfer from Oklahoma who wants to be a meteorologist, put enough footballs into the stratosphere to rank fourth in the nation with a 44.7 yards per punt average last year.
Bottom lineBest case scenario: Fridge’s fireworks on offense spark the team to that elusive six wins and a bowl bid. It’s possible. The Terps have seven home games, including the first three at home -- an excellent chance to build some early confidence and momentum.
The flip side of this scenario begins with the defensive line. Undersized and not deep, the line can ill-afford injuries. Even healthy, the unit has question marks against the run and the pass.
Growing pains are likely as new systems are incorporated on both sides of the ball. Of course, N.C. State made that transition work last year in the ACC, so there is precedent. The more you hear about Friedgen’s offense, though, the more you worry he needs a couple of seasons to get his personnel in place.