Inside Carolina's Vote – 6th in the Atlantic Division
2006 record (9-4, 5-3 ACC)
The '06 Terps were the perfect example of how stats can lie. Maryland was outgained in conference play by 86 yards per contest, and its negative turnover margin (-6) ranked in the lower half of the league. Despite those numbers, Maryland was a home victory against Wake Forest away from playing in the ACC Championship Game. The Terrapins won five league contests by a combined total of 13 points, which details the level of mental toughness that Friedgen has instilled in his program. The question now becomes: Will Maryland have to grind out victories again this season, and if so, what are the odds of beating the statistical percentages in consecutive seasons? Friedgen will handle the OC duties again this fall, and he must get solid play from the passing game and the defensive front if his squad wants to be in the hunt for a title game appearance.
Offense: Friedgen returns the strength of his offense in senior tailbacks Lance Ball (174 car, 815 yds, 8 tds) and Keon Lattimore [pictured, right] (743 yds, 3 tds). The Terrapin rushing attack ranked fourth in the league last season (130.2 ypg), and will be counted on to carry the team until former starting QB Sam Hollenbach (2371 yds, 15 tds) can be replaced. The options? Junior Jordan Steffy and sophomore Florida transfer Josh Portis, who combined to complete zero passes in ‘06. Senior guard Andrew Crummey returns with junior center Edwin Williams, on what should be a solid offensive line, although losing left tackle Jared Gaither to the NFL Supplemental Draft hurts. Sophomore wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (45 rec, 694 yds, 5 tds) has big-play potential.
Defense: The good news is that the defensive line returns three starters – juniors Jeremy Navarre (47 tkl, 3.5 sacks) and Trey Covington (41 tkl, 1.5 sacks), and senior Dre Moore (47 tkl, 3.5 sacks). The bad news is that the Terrapins' rushing defense ranked 96th nationally (162.9 ypg). The passing defense was not much better, resulting in a total defense (360.6 ypg) that ranked 10th in the conference. Junior Erin Henderson (114 tkl, 5.5 tfl) returns to lead the LB corps, which will miss Wesley Jefferson (110 tkl, 7 tfl). Junior Dave Philistin (26 tkl, 5.5 tfl) must step up to help fill those shoes. Senior FS Christian Varner (58 tkl, 3 pbu) headlines the defensive backfield, which should improve under the guidance of new DB coach Kevin Lempa, formerly at Boston College.
Special Teams: A key reason that we voted Maryland sixth in the Atlantic was their problems in this area. Gone are veteran kicker Dan Ennis (20-25 in '06), punter Adam Podlesh (42.9 average second-best in the ACC) and returner Josh Wilson (27.3 ypr on kickoffs). Junior Danny Oquendo (8.4 ypr) is back on punt returns, but the Terps are going to have to turn to some inexperienced players to round out this unit. Junior Obi Egekeze will handle the placekicking duties, while freshman Travis Baltz will most likely man the punting responsibilities.
Schedule: After two easy victories, Maryland's rush defense will be put to the test over a three week period, facing run-oriented offenses with West Virginia at home, followed by Wake Forest and Rutgers on the road. With two difficult OOC games, the Terps will have no breaks in the schedule following the Sept. 8 FIU contest. Fortunately for Friedgen, he should have plenty of time to groom his new quarterback, with the second ACC game on the slate not occurring until Oct. 6th. There will be no room for mistakes the rest of the way, however, with divisional rivals on the ticket four of the last five weeks of the season.
Top Newcomer: DB coach Kevin Lempa. The Terrapins ranked 10th in the ACC in both interceptions (8) and pass efficiency defense (125.9 rating) in '06. Lempa's BC unit intercepted 49 passes over the past three seasons, and with the holes at LB, the secondary is going to need to step up big this fall.
Key Game: Vs. West Virginia on Sept. 13. The Mountaineers embarrassed the Terps on national television last season in a 45-24 beating. Maryland hosts WVU on Thursday night this year, and Rich Rodriguez's squad will come into College Park ranked in the top-5 nationally. An impressive showing here will give the Terps a strong dose of confidence heading into ACC play.
Friedgen on winning last season despite the stats: "I definitely see it as a positive. If we won games on stats, we would keep score that way. A lot of times I'm trying to manage the game to win it. We found a way to win. We didn't turn it over as much (as 2005), but the games we turned it over we got beat. But I said last year, we won the moment of truth in games more than we did in 2005. There comes a point in time in every game where it's a matter of wills to decide who's going to win every game. We won that last year and I tried to emphasize that to our players. As time went on they got pretty confident."
Varner on improving on last season: "To be better than we were last year, we've got to continue to grow as a unit. A good example is how Wake did it last year. They had a lot of seniors that understood each other. We've got a bunch of guys that have been through some growing pains together and now we understand each other. Now we know what it takes to win."
Word from the Beat: "The biggest question – and it's been this way since the bowl game ended – is who is going to be the quarterback this year? And really, that is going to be the question that follows Maryland from obviously spring practice to throughout camp, and quite possibly into the season. Ralph Friedgen has really not shown a willingness to anoint a guy one way or another. He's said pretty consistently that Steffy is ahead, but also kind of said that there is a competition there with Portis, and also a guy named Chris Turner. The big storyline with Maryland is who's going to be under center, and I think all of the other storylines are secondary. I think most people believe that if the quarterback situation shakes out fine, then Maryland could come pretty close, if not completely match, what they did last year, and if not, then there could be some struggles up here." -- Patrick Stevens, Washington Times
S. 1 Villanova
S. 8 at FIU
S. 13 West Virginia
S. 22 at Wake Forest
S. 29 at Rutgers
O. 6 Georgia Tech
O. 13 bye
O. 20 Virginia
O. 27 Clemson
N. 3 at UNC
N. 10 Boston College
N. 17 at FSU
N. 24 at NCSU
(Photos courtesy Getty Images)