Ralph Friedgen, the head football coach at Maryland and a long-time Clemson nemesis, will once again try to be a thorn in the Tigers’ side when his Terrapins take on Clemson on Saturday in a noon game televised by ESPNU.
The Terrapins, however, are a team in turmoil following a 1-3 start that has had many questioning Friedgen’s job status. Maryland will enter their ACC opener against Clemson having not beaten a power-conference team since last Nov. 15th [a 17-15 win over North Carolina], and Friedgen is in danger of having his fourth losing season in the past six years. The Terrapins have not finished a season ranked in the top 25 since 2003.
So far in 2009, Maryland lost big against California, struggled to beat FCS team James Madison in overtime, lost to Sun Belt foe Middle Tennessee State for the second time in two years, and lost last week to a Rutgers team that was playing without its starting quarterback.
Maryland has also struggled with turnovers, with only one team in the country giving the football away more than Maryland, with Miami (Ohio) edging Maryland 16 to 13. Friedgen said earlier this week that the Terrapins have given up 61 points off those 13 turnovers and then followed that up by saying it could have been worse had Rutgers capitalized on two more opportunities.
Friedgen said earlier this week that the Terrapins will have to cut back on the turnovers if his team hopes to beat the Tigers on Saturday.
“Right now, we are minus 10 in turnover ratio,” Friedgen said. “I told them that we are going to start a new streak and we are going to keep track of how many turnovers we have per practice. We are going to do something to recognize the turnover, whether or its up- downs or whatever. Last night we had one turnover the whole practice. I think we have to make a conscious effort to not do this. We work on our technique of carrying the ball and where to throw the ball but I think it just has to be something we avoid at all costs.”
Friedgen also said that the Terps need to cut back on penalties, and he actually brought officials in for the Tuesday and Wednesday practices this week. He also said that Maryland will run fewer plays in practice this week in order to execute that limited number until they can execute them perfectly, as he prepares for a Clemson defense that has impressed him on film.
“We’ve really got a challenge this week because Clemson is a very good football team,” Friedgen said. Defensively, I think they lead the ACC and are nationally-ranked defensively. They are experienced, big, fast, athletic and pretty impressive. On their defensive line, they have four defensive ends and all of them play. Ricky Sapp - it seems like he’s been there for years - looks bigger, stronger and faster this year. He’s an excellent pass rusher and they are moving him around and putting him at linebacker and defensive end, so it’s hard to find out where he is.
“They are doing a good job with that. Da’Quan Bowers is the other defensive end but they will also play two other guys just like those guys. Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson is 6-foot-3, 305 pounds and Jarvis Jenkins is 6-foot-4, 310 pounds at nose. They are two big, wide bodies. They will also play two other guys in there that are pretty good also. The linebackers are very fast and very big.”
Friedgen said he was also impressed with the Clemson secondary.
“The secondary is very experienced,” he said. “The two corners are Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler. Both are seniors and play a lot of man-to-man and lot of press coverage. Both are very quick and good cover guys. The two safeties are real hitters. DeAndre McDaniel leads the league in interceptions and is a very good tackler. Marcus Gilchrist is a very good deep safety and a good run-support man. They are pretty solid on defense and very-well coached.”
Friedgen said the Clemson offense, despite its recent struggles, is still a concern because of the weapons the Tigers have.
“Kyle Parker is a very good athlete and he has a strong arm, he’s just young,” he said. “He’s going through some growing pains right now. But he is dangerous because of his athleticism. When you talk about Clemson’s offense, you have to talk about C.J. Spiller. He’s a Heisman candidate. He is great kickoff and punt returner. He’s a big-play guy with great speed. He’s a guy you have to know where he is at all times.”
Spiller’s success on special teams, and the success of Clemson’s special teams overall this season, have caught Friedgen’s attention.
“Their special teams really have me concerned,” he said. “Spiller is averaging 36.4 average yards on punt returns. [Jacoby] Ford is back there with him and he’s averaging 15.8. Spiller has one touchdown of 77 yards and Ford has one of 66 yards. In kickoff returns, Spiller is the main guy, Ford is there too, but he’s the up-man. He’s averaging 33.9 yards and one touchdown of 96 yards. So kicking the ball, we really need to be careful what we are doing with that because we have some explosive people there.”