COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who spends countless hours tracking the tendencies of other teams, was at a loss yesterday to explain one of his own.
Maryland has outscored its opponents 50-16 in the first quarter this season but has had trouble putting away teams in the second half. The Terps have been outscored in the second half in three of the past four games.
"I don't know," Friedgen said. "I'd have to look at that and see. I think some of it is I think we get a lead and kind of relax. We lose our focus. I don't know. I can't really put my finger on that."
It's a trend Maryland (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) is looking to reverse in the second half of the season, beginning at 8 p.m. Saturday in a homecoming game against Virginia (6-1, 3-0).
Maryland safety Christian Varner said part of it comes down to maturity.
"It's like a learned behavior," he said. "It's something you've got to go through before you don't want it to happen anymore. We've experienced these close games and these tough finishes, and in a good way it's kind of defining our character. It's pushing us to be better and knowing how to finish, but ... we've got to put the nail in the coffin and don't give teams that extra breath, that life again, a fumble or a return for a touchdown, interception, anything, because teams build off that, then they go in the locker room with momentum.
"Then they come out juiced up against us. Momentum, that's the biggest thing in football."
The Terps had a 16-0 first-quarter lead in a win against Florida International but didn't score again until the fourth quarter. Despite being held scoreless in the final period by Georgia Tech, Maryland escaped with a 28-26 win.
The biggest meltdown in recent history came Sept. 22 at Wake Forest, when the Terps blew a 24-3 lead and lost, 31-24, in overtime. It was the largest lead Maryland had squandered in the past decade.
"I don't think they're getting outworked," Friedgen said. "The one thing that's helped us is the energy with which our kids have played. I think we got tired in the Wake Forest game. I put that on me, but I think after that, especially last week, I think our defense played 85 plays."
If that's what it takes to win, linebacker Dave Philistin said, he's "all for that."
"I don't want to say we wear out, but taking 83 snaps a game is probably not the best thing you want to do for your team or your defense," said Philistin, who had a career-high 21 tackles against Georgia Tech and has been nursing a shoulder injury since. "I'm not complaining, I just want to get the win."
Still, the past four opponents have combined to outscore Maryland by 20 points in the second half. Friedgen said he would like to see the offense be more consistent - something that might have been hard to do considering the recent change at quarterback. Chris Turner will be making his second career start Saturday in place of an injured Jordan Steffy, who still has not been cleared by the medical staff to play because of a concussion.
"We come out fired up, and I guess sometimes when you get that big of a lead, guys tend to relax," said Turner, who has completed 65.1 percent of his passes (28 of 43) for 437 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in four games. "I don't want to speak for everyone, but it's definitely something we need to work on."
They're not the only ones.
The Cavaliers, in the midst of a six-game winning streak - their longest since 2002 - haven't had many convincing wins. They have outscored the opposition by an average of 4.3 points and have won three games by two points or fewer.
Maryland might have had its best second-half success last season against Virginia, overcoming a 20-0 first-half deficit and outscoring Virginia 21-6 in the fourth quarter for a 28-26 win.
"I'm sure they have a great desire to beat us after the way we won last year," Friedgen said. "I think that will be a factor in the game also."
Notes -- Running back Da'Rel Scott (ankle) is expected to play this weekend, along with offensive lineman Scott Burley (elbow), who practiced the past two days. Linebacker Erin Henderson (knee) still is not full speed and wore a noncontact jersey yesterday. Linebacker Rick Costa is still out with a firstname.lastname@example.org