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Terps confront growing pains in test against West Virginia


COLLEGE PARK - Eight of the 11 players penciled in to start for Maryland's offense at noon today against rival West Virginia began the season two weeks ago with one or no collegiate starts.

Four of those players are on the offensive line. One is the starting quarterback.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is trying to remain patient, but he is also trying desperately to win.

"We're going to be very, very good," he said. "I just don't know when."

Somehow, following last year's 5-6 season, Maryland became younger. It showed in last weekend's 28-24 loss to Clemson. Offensive linemen missed assignments at critical points, quarterback Sam Hollenbach fumbled the ball on the 6-yard line, an inexperienced defense couldn't stop a 38-yard touchdown run on third-and-seven, and youth in the secondary allowed the game-winning touchdown on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter.

All of those mistakes, Friedgen said, are correctable.

But, he added, "I'm not going to get them better in one night."

He's had a week to prepare for West Virginia (2-0), which will bring the nation's top defense to Byrd Stadium and will test Maryland (1-1) on both sides of the ball. Friedgen was a little late to his weekly Tuesday news conference because he was studying the Mountaineers' run defense, and trying to "make it so our young guys don't make mental mistakes on Saturday."

The Terps were held to 56 yards rushing a week ago.

The Mountaineers held Wofford to 78 rushing yards that day while they racked up 339. Although West Virginia's first win came against Syracuse, a team that hasn't had a winning season in three years, and its second came against a Division I-AA team, its defense has held opponents to an average of seven points and 128.5 yards a game.

The intensity of the dead-even series (8-8) over the past 16 years, coupled with the Mountaineers' 19-16 overtime win last fall, should make it a physical game. Yesterday, after a mentally and physically exhausting week for almost everyone in the program, Friedgen said his team was still "a work in progress."

"This really frustrates me a bit," he said. "We're working really hard at it. Some of these guys just aren't getting it."

Still, he has no other choice but to continue to teach them on Saturdays. Nearly half of the 39 players who were on the field against Clemson were either true or redshirt freshmen.

The same is expected today. Freshman Jared Gaither has shown flashes of improvement at left tackle and practiced some with the first team this week. Redshirt freshman Kevin Barnes made two tackles in his debut against Clemson. Freshman receivers Isaiah Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey are also expected to play again. Redshirt freshmen Edwin Williams and Dane Randolph will again rotate in the offensive line.

"It's a fine line," offensive line coach Tom Brattan said of tempering patience with pressure to win. "At the same time, you understand we're pretty young and it's a difficult conference and you see a variety of defenses, but we have to get the job done. That's the bottom line."

The problem has not been a lack of talent, Friedgen said. It's just a matter of how fast the players can learn their assignments. Once Gaither knows his position, senior Derek Miller can officially return to his position at tight end.

"It's a young bunch of kids," Miller said. "They haven't really experienced college football yet. As long as we stay positive, we'll be all right. We're a good football team."

Friedgen said defensive coordinator Gary Blackney is "a little frustrated" because he has never coached such a young defense. Only four seniors are listed in this week's starting lineup. Friedgen pointed to former players Madieu Williams (Cincinnati Bengals drafted in 2004), Dennard Wilson (Washington Redskins, 2004) and Domonique Foxworth (Denver Broncos, 2005) as examples of what Blackney is missing.

"Those guys wanted to be the best they possibly could be," Friedgen said. "Now we've got guys who just want to get in the game."

There are 58 players on the roster with three or more years of eligibility remaining. A total of 72 players are sophomores or younger. If he's going to win, it has to happen with these players.

"There are certain things I just can't accelerate, even though I'd like to think I can," Friedgen said. "I'm trying to be more patient than what I've been in the past.

"Maybe I was unrealistic," he said. "Maybe I put too much pressure on the kids. And yet at the same time, I want it to happen."

Today's game

West Virginia (2-0) at Maryland (1-1)

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 20/1300 AM, 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 3

Series: Maryland leads 21-20-2

Last meeting: West Virginia 19, Maryland 16, OT

Maryland offense vs. West Virginia defense: Junior Sam Hollenbach had a career-high 288 yards passing and two touchdowns last week, but West Virginia is ranked third nationally in pass defense, holding opponents to 80.5 yards per game. Four West Virginia players each have one interception. Hollenbach has already thrown three. Maryland worked all week to improve its running game, which was held to 56 yards against Clemson. West Virginia's stingy defense has allowed only 48 rushing yards per game. The Terps have converted six of 22 third-down opportunities (27.3 percent). West Virginia opponents have been even less successful (20.6 percent). This will be the Mountaineers' first true defensive test, though, as their wins came against Syracuse, which hasn't had a winning team in the past three seasons, and Wofford, a Division I-AA team. The Mountaineers are likely to key in on tight end Vernon Davis, who had six catches for 140 yards against Clemson.

Maryland defense vs. West Virginia offense: Led by senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson's 34 tackles, which also leads the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Terps' defense will have to contain two quarterbacks. Adam Bednarik, a second cousin of Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik, can also punt. He and Pat White have combined for 221 rushing yards on 35 carries, for an average of 6.3 yards per carry. White had 107 yards on 11 carries last Saturday against Wofford. Maryland's rushing defense currently ranks last in the ACC, allowing 180 yards per game. In addition to the quarterbacks, a quartet of West Virginia running backs makes zeroing in on one player impossible. Junior Jason Colson, sophomore Pernell Williams and freshmen Jason Gwaltney and Steve Slaton have combined for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide-out Brandon Myles leads the Mountaineers with 133 yards on eight catches this year.

- Heather A. Dinich

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