It has come to where Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen can't bear to watch a football team turn the ball over - his team or anybody else's.
Friedgen talks these days like a man a little bit haunted. "NOOOO!" the coach says he screams when he watches a critical interception, even one on television involving another team.
As his Terps (2-5, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared for Duke (3-3, 1-1) on the road today, turnovers had become the bane of the coach's existence - and of his young Terrapins. The Terps are minus-13 in turnover margin - last in the ACC and 118th in the nation. They have lost 12 fumbles and recovered four.
As a remedy, Maryland has tried to turn its practice fields into fumble-free zones. Coaches instruct the Terps on how to fall when tackled so the ball doesn't pop out. Players try to tuck in their elbows to make it harder for the ball to be jarred loose. The scout team routinely tries to strip the ball from the front-line players.
But there can be a fluky element to turnovers - such as the one last week in which Maryland quarterback Chris Turner's pass was batted into the air, intercepted and returned 32 yards for a touchdown in the 20-9 loss to Virginia.
It is these sorts of turnovers - the ones involving unpredictable bounces - that are maddening to a team still trying to find a foothold three games into its ACC season.
Friedgen alternated between smiles and grimaces as he sat in his Gossett Football Team House office last week wearing a red "Maryland football" shirt and black sweats and discussed his least-favorite subject - the turnover bug.
"Maybe we have a game where we don't have any turnovers and I'll pass out. God, give us a chance," the coach said.
Between turnovers and injuries to starters - cornerback Nolan Carroll, running back Da'Rel Scott and linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield are among those sidelined - Friedgen believes the Terps have endured more than their share of hard luck.
"I've been rolling craps for a long time here. It's time it turns around somewhere," Friedgen said.
The coach knows all too well that not all the fumbles are caused by happenstance. Part of the problem has been that the largely inexperienced and often-injured offensive line has sometimes left Turner and his running backs exposed. That was the case when Turner was belted in the end zone by safety Joe Lefeged and fumbled in a 34-13 loss to Rutgers last month.
Friedgen has been meeting privately in his office lately with offensive linemen, many of whom are playing this season for the first time. "[It's] just like an extra tutoring session," the coach said. "A lot of these kids just need some individual time."
Friedgen and other coaches say they have tried to encourage all the players so they're not playing "tight."
"You don't get too high with the highs, you don't get too low with the lows," said defensive coordinator Don Brown, formerly the head coach at Massachusetts. "You just stay with it."
Said Friedgen: "Maybe we just need to go out and relax and just play and have a good time and let it go."
This is one of Maryland's youngest teams in years. Fifty-eight of Maryland's 85 scholarship players have at least three years of eligibility remaining.
Turner, who was intercepted twice last week, said he has been telling himself to stay relaxed even if he makes a mistake. "The success I've had is from trying not to do too much," he said.
But the senior quarterback concedes some frustration. "I feel like I'm a better quarterback this year but I did better last year," he said.
Friedgen hopes Turner and his teammates can take out their frustrations on Duke.
Led by senior quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, Durham's Blue Devils are coming off a bye week and lead the ACC in passing offense.
Lewis completed 40 of 50 passes for 459 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-28 victory over North Carolina State in his most recent outing.
Duke has fumbled just three times, second fewest in the ACC behind Miami.
The Terps haven't played the Blue Devils since beating them, 55-21, in 2004.
"The mood of the team is frustrated but I haven't seen it affect their effort," Friedgen said. "It's more of a 'Let's get it right.' "It's been a very physical week [of practices], and not by design by me. I think we're mad right now."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun