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July 24, 2006
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Ralph Friedgen calls them the moments that define a season.
The Maryland coach is referring to those stages of a nip-and-tuck game in which the result comes down to sheer will.
Maryland inevitably made the most of those moments while posting 10-win seasons in each of Friedgen's first three years. And the Terrapins continually came up short in those situations during last year's 5-6 campaign.
"We didn't win those moments," Friedgen said Monday during the Atlantic Coast Conference media days at the Sawgrass Marriott. "That's what happens. You can't do that."
But they've done that too often over the last two years.
Maryland appeared on the verge of making itself a consistent Top 20 team after the first three years of the Friedgen era, but the Terps couldn't sustain that success.
The Terps have gone 5-6 each of the last two years and often stumbled down the stretch of close games. The downfall has tested the nerves of Maryland's players and coaches.
"I can't wait to get started," junior quarterback Sam Hollenbach said. "I want to kind of get rid of the past couple of 5-6 years and get to a bowl game."
Friedgen is even more direct.
"We've got to get back to a bowl game," Friedgen said. "I don't think there's any question about that."
Friedgen has responded by taking a more active role on the coaching staff.
He didn't hire an offensive coordinator after the offseason departure of Charlie Taffe. Friedgen instead plans to handle most of the play-calling responsibilities himself.
Friedgen has reduced some of his off-field engagements to allow himself to concentrate more on football.
"When I went to Maryland, I knew what had to be done there," Friedgen said. "You had to improve your fan base. We had to improve our fundraising. We had to improve our facilities. I think I've done all that. Now it's back to winning football games.
"I'm out of the fundraising business. I used to do a breakfast every Friday before a home game. I think I'll only do three of those this year. I can't do everything. I'm going to cut back and focus more on winning football games."
Much of that work will involve improving Hollenbach's consistency.
Hollenbach ranked second in the ACC in passing yardage per game and fourth in the conference in total offense per game last year, but he also threw more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (13). He was picked off at least twice in each of his last four starts.
"He's more composed in the pocket," senior cornerback Josh Wilson said. "He's more confident. He can sit back and relax and doesn't try to force things. He's a more comfortable quarterback."
Friedgen certainly knows how experience can benefit a quarterback.
"When I came to Georgia Tech (as an assistant coach in 1997), Joe Hamilton was a redshirt freshman," Friedgen said. "I'd evaluated his tape and said, 'If you can put all your plays in a computer and take 13 or 14 of them and hit delete, you'd have been in a bowl game.' I think it's similar with Sam."
Hamilton ended his college career as a Heisman Trophy runner-up who led Georgia Tech to the Gator Bowl. Hollenbach doesn't have to reach that kind of stardom to get Maryland into bowl contention.
Although the Terps posted a losing record, they weren't far from going 8-3. They blew fourth-quarter leads against Clemson and Florida State, and they lost 31-19 to West Virginia after trailing by one point at the start of the final period.
In each of those games, the Terps had one of those crucial moments at the start of the fourth quarter when they could have seized the momentum. Maryland instead made a mistake that allowed their opponents to come from behind or put the game away.
"Who wins that moment usually goes a long way to gaining the confidence you need to sustain you the rest of the year," Friedgen said.
The Terps believe they're ready to capitalize on those moments.