COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland Terrapins began the 2002 football season with considerably less experience than last year's surprise Atlantic Coast Conference championship team, and after four games, the Terps keep getting younger.
In Saturday's 45-3 rout of visiting Eastern Michigan, two more freshmen - tailback Josh Allen and wide receiver Danny Melendez - got their first taste of live competition. So, far seven first-year freshmen have played for Maryland (2-2) this fall. The others are wide receiver Jo Jo Walker, offensive tackle Stephon Heyer and linebackers Shawne Merriman, William Kershaw and D'Qwell Jackson.
"Sometimes I think I'm coaching a freshman team," Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Obviously, we've had a very good year recruiting."
Melendez caught two passes for 15 yards and pleased Friedgen with his blocking against Eastern Michigan. He also suffered a bruised back that has put his status into question for Saturday's game against visiting Wofford, a Division I-AA school from the Southern Conference.
Allen earned raves from Friedgen. Playing the final quarter against the Eagles, Allen showed speed, power and agility, piling up 86 yards and his first career touchdown in 10 carries.
Allen also thrust himself into the thick of the depth chart, moving ahead of second-year freshman Mario Merrills. Ahead of Allen remain senior Chris Downs (No. 2) and junior Bruce Perry, who might start Saturday if he is healthy enough. The reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year has yet to play while rehabilitating a torn groin muscle.
The emergence of Allen also has Friedgen considering moving 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore tailback Jason Crawford to fullback. Crawford is still bothered by a hip flexor.
"I hesitated to offer Josh a scholarship, because we have so many running backs," Friedgen said. "When he came in, we didn't know if he was going to be ready to play, as far as grasping the offense. With the injury to Jason, we brought him up. All I know I don't want to play against this guy. He's going to be good, and he's going to play a lot."
Allen, 5-11, 194, came to Maryland via Eleanor Roosevelt High in nearby Greenbelt. That's the same school that sent former Raven and current Houston Texan Jermaine Lewis to College Park, and Allen is a sprinter in the Lewis mold. As a high school junior, he was the Class 4A state champion in the 100 meters (10.8 seconds) and was the county champion in the long jump and triple jump.
Friedgen is more encouraged than ever by Perry's progress. The coach said Perry showed clear signs of his old self in Monday night's workout.
"Bruce had his best practice. What I liked that I didn't see last Monday was his acceleration. I didn't see that burst last week," Friedgen said.
"Bruce will play, but I don't know how much he will play. If Bruce is a hundred percent, he will be the starter. If he's not a hundred percent, he won't be the starter. I think we've still got to be careful.
"I'm anxious to get him in the game. I want him to be able to play a lot next week [at West Virginia on Oct. 5]."
The reason Maryland picked up Wofford on its schedule is that Troy State pulled out of an agreement to travel to College Park for the second straight year. Yesterday, Friedgen did his best to build up the Terriers.
He pointed out that Wofford, off to its first 3-0 start in 11 seasons, just went on the road and beat Georgia Southern, a Division I-AA power that had not lost at home since 1996.
He added that the Terriers have surrendered only 13 points, and their triple-option, wishbone-like offense has amassed 324 rushing yards per game against the likes of Newberry and South Carolina State.
"This is a tough team, a dangerous opponent," Friedgen said. "They're a I-AA opponent, so everybody will look at their heights and weights and say, 'Oh well.' This is a very well-coached team that plays hard. This is their bowl game. We'd better be ready to play."
Third-string quarterback Orlando Evans will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Freshman Joel Statham takes his place. ... Junior backup fullback Bernie Fielder (ankle) is questionable ... Senior center Todd Wike, who missed the Eastern Michigan game with a concussion, will return to the starting lineup.
Next for Terps
Opponent: Wofford (3-0)
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV: Comcast pay-per-view
Line: Off the board