Southern discomfort

The Baltimore Sun

Murfreesboro, Tenn. - Maryland's trip here to play Middle Tennessee State last night was thought to be, in college football parlance, a trap for a team that barely beat Delaware in its season opener.

That might have been giving the beleaguered Terps too much credit and the Blue Raiders not enough.

In a 24-14 defeat that is perhaps the worst defeat in Ralph Friedgen's nine-year tenure as Maryland's coach, the Terps showed that much-maligned quarterback Jordan Steffy was only one of their problems.

Playing for the injured Steffy, junior Chris Turner was just as ineffective. Turner didn't complete a pass until late in the second quarter and threw three interceptions in the second half, the first leading to a Blue Raiders touchdown and the last sealing the biggest win for the home team in the 75-year history of Floyd Stadium.

But another glaring issue for the Terps was their defense, which made senior quarterback Joe Craddock look like Joe Montana. Craddock completed 28 of 40 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. The Terps didn't sack Craddock, and Middle Tennessee had possession for nearly 40 of the 60 minutes.

Starting with the opening drive by the Blue Raiders, which was extended by a 30-yard pass on a fake punt and ended with one of Craddock's touchdown passes, the Terps played catch-up the entire night. The score was tied only once, after a 63-yard run in the first quarter by Da'Rel Scott.

Friedgen said he would take the brunt of the blame.

"We didn't do a very good job coaching, playing," Friedgen said. "I didn't do a very good job at all. I was embarrassed by the way we fought tonight. Give credit to Middle Tennessee. I thought they played well. They really outplayed us."

Friedgen pointed to his team's lack of focus in practice late last week as the start of its problems.

"We came and were not focused, and that is what I am concerned about," Friedgen said. "I wasn't able to get our guys to understand, and that is my fault. We need some more consistency in our offense."

Partly because of Middle Tennessee's ball-control offense and partly because of their own difficulty finding the proper rhythm as first-year offensive coordinator James Franklin tried to mix junior Josh Portis in with Turner, the Terps never seemed in sync offensively.

"I don't know. For whatever reason, things were not clicking for us as they usually do," said Turner, who did not convert a third-down pass until the second half. "Offensively, we were not moving the ball the way we should have. It was hard to get into a tempo because they had the ball a lot."

Turner, who started eight games last season when Steffy was sidelined after suffering a concussion, was 13 of 28 for 207 yards, 80 of them coming on a screen pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey for a touchdown. Heyward-Bey caught only two other passes for 10 yards.

"I could have played better for sure," said Turner, whose final interception with 2:18 remaining came after he drove the Terps to the Middle Tennessee 5-yard line. "I am not happy with the way I played. It won't happen again."

The victory for Middle Tennessee (1-1) came a year after the Blue Raiders nearly knocked off Virginia, also at home. The loss will certainly add to the pressure the Terps (1-1) feel when they return home Saturday to play California at Byrd Stadium. The Golden Bears pummeled Washington State yesterday, 66-3.

Friedgen knows his team has responded before to difficult defeats to lesser-known opponents.

"I remember when we went to Northern Illinois and lost a tough one and came back and won 10 games and played in the Gator Bowl," Friedgen said, referring to the 2003 season opener. "These games are hard.

"That's why you play the games. That's my job, to get them ready to play.

It is also a case of the Terps listening to Friedgen - or not.

"They've got to start trusting me that I'm not just a coach who talks the talk," he said. "Maybe they will, maybe they won't. If they want to have a good football team they will."

play it again

Middle Tennessee 24, Maryland 14

What Went Right: Da'Rel Scott continues to prove that he is a top-rate running back. After rushing for a career-high 197 yards last week against Delaware, Scott had 123 yards on 11 carries, including a 63-yard touchdown run.

What Went Wrong: The defense was shredded by Blue Raiders quarterback Joe Craddock and a bunch of quick receivers. On offense, Chris Turner was picked off three times in the second half. Even the punt-return unit was faked out for a 30-yard pass to set up Middle Tennessee's first touchdown.

Defining Moment: After Darrius Heyward Bey's 80-yard touchdown on a bubble screen pass helped cut Maryland's deficit to 17-14 with 2:15 left in the third quarter, the Blue Raiders came right back with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Craddock to freshman Malcolm Beyah.

What It Means: Considering that Middle Tennessee has the youngest team in the country, and that the Blue Raiders lost last week at home to Troy by two touchdowns, it could be the signal for a long season for the Terps if they don't turn it around quickly.

Up Next: The Terps will host California (2-0) at Byrd Stadium. The noon start could help Maryland if the Bears have jetlag. But given the way Cal took apart Washington State yesterday, it could mean a tough week for Maryland defensive coordinator Chris Cosh.

Don Markus

Next game: Home vs. California, Saturday, noon


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