COLLEGE PARK - Could there be a more perfect illustration of Maryland's erratic but still promising season than showing up in black jerseys yesterday and shutting out No. 21 Wake Forest, 26-0?
The symmetry was perfect. In their previous game, the Terps wore white jerseys and were blanked, 31-0, by unheralded Virginia. Yesterday, Maryland reversed the jersey color and blanked the Demon Deacons in a performance nearly as opposite as the choice of apparel.
Bad Maryland one week, good Maryland the next. White jerseys one game, black the next. So it goes for the Terps, who - despite all the fluctuations - find themselves 5-2 (2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) and tied for first in the Atlantic Division.
"I think we finally put a whole game together," said coach Ralph Friedgen, whose sister is a psychologist and who has sometimes seemed as bewildered as the Maryland fans in trying to figure out what makes his team tick. One thing is clear: The Terps have a penchant for rising to the occasion and did so again yesterday. Maryland has won its past five games against nationally ranked foes, spanning two seasons. The Terps say they're the only team in the nation to have beaten three ranked opponents this season.
The trend of playing up - or down - to the opposition is all too well known by Friedgen, whose Terps next face unranked North Carolina State, winless in the ACC.
"Is there any way you guys could vote them into the Top 25?" the coach asked reporters after yesterday's game. "We've got a bunch of ranked teams coming up, so we've got a chance, don't we?"
Maryland won yesterday with penetrating defense and a pass-first offensive philosophy that resulted in wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey catching 11 passes for 101 yards. It was the most catches by a Terrapin since Geroy Simon's school-record 16 against Florida State in 1995.
Maryland was aided by four field goals by Obi Egekeze, who has made his past nine attempts after nearly being replaced when he started the season 0-for-5. Wake Forest was without injured kicker Sam Swank, whose replacement, Shane Popham, missed two field goals for the second game in a row.
Heyward-Bey's output almost matched his total catches (12) in the six previous games. His last reception had come against Eastern Michigan, one month and three games ago.
Heyward-Bey paused and smiled when asked whether he had been frustrated by the drought. "Everything's frustrating when you lose. Your girlfriend's frustrating," he said.
Fans had been clamoring for offensive coordinator James Franklin to get Heyward-Bey more involved. Franklin said he had been waiting for the right moments.
Those opportunities presented themselves yesterday when Wake came out in a soft zone, which Maryland quarterback Chris Turner attacked by throwing underneath. Turner went 28-for-41 for 321 yards. It was seven more passes and 98 more yards than Turner had totaled in any other game this season.
All the passing seemed to surprise the Demon Deacons. "We were thinking they would come in and try to run it down our throats, then they come out doing play-action and it caught us off guard," Wake defensive end Matt Robinson said.
The most memorable Maryland throw came in the second quarter with the Terps leading 7-0. The ball was tipped before Heyward-Bey secured it falling down for a 41-yard gain at Wake's 14-yard line. It set up a 40-yard field goal by Egekeze.
"The crowd actually helped me out," Heyward-Bey said of the catch. "I didn't know the ball was in the air until I heard the 'oooooh.' [Cornerback Alphonso] Smith was kind of holding me, and he pushed me into the ball."
The game began ominously for the Terps, who won the coin toss and chose to receive the ball. Friedgen had wanted the ball to begin the second half, but his captains got it wrong. "I'll write it down [for them] next time," Friedgen said.
The Terps won despite four fumbles (two lost). Friedgen said a key to the game was that his defense didn't allow those turnovers to turn into Wake Forest points.
Wake tried to spread out the Terps with occasional five-receiver sets but had limited success. Maryland, which lost starting cornerback Kevin Barnes in the first half to an injured shoulder, got four sacks and frequently applied pressure on quarterback Riley Skinner.
Maryland forced Skinner to go 14-for-30 for 127 yards. It was only the second time in his career he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, and it was the first time Wake had been shut out since 1998. It was Maryland's first shutout of an ACC opponent at home since 1996.
"We were trying to push the pocket and make him run sideways," Maryland defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said.
Like many of the Terps and their coaches, Cosh was criticized by fans after the Virginia loss. "Contrary to popular belief, we were 4-2," Cosh said yesterday. "The world wasn't caving in."
play it again
What went right
Maybe it was the team meeting the Terps held after the Virginia loss. Or wearing black jerseys for the first time since last season's West Virginia game. Whatever the reason, Maryland played efficiently on offense and aggressively on defense. Wake Forest hadn't been shut out since 1998 - a span of 123 games - until yesterday.
What went wrong
Maryland fumbled four times, losing two. Starting cornerback Kevin Barnes injured his shoulder and will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was disappointed in the announced crowd of 46,257, which fell short of the 51,500 capacity.
The tone was set when quarterback Chris Turner began by completing seven of his first eight passes. It was evident the Terps could use short passes instead of runs to move the ball and stay out of third-and-long.
What it means
The season outlook is again rosy for Maryland, which is tied for first in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division and has three of its final five regular-season games at home.
The Terps (5-2, 2-1 ACC) are home Saturday against North Carolina State (2-5, 0-3 ACC), which lost, 26-17, to Florida State on Thursday night.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
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