Maryland's goal line stop against Navy was a start for Friedgen
BALTIMORE -- It was the right call by Ken Niumatalolo.
Navy's head coach went for the win on fourth and 1 at the Maryland 1-yard-line, down 17-14, with 37 seconds left in a thriller -- badly played, but a thriller nonetheless -- between the Terps and the Midshipmen. A game-tying field goal would have almost certainly produced overtime, and since Navy had run up and down the field against Maryland all afternoon, to the tune of 412 yards on an implausible 72 carries, a case for playing it safe could be made.
But every time Navy needed a yard against Maryland on Monday, its quarterback, Ricky Dobbs, got it on a sneak. Every time. And that's what Navy dialed up on its last offensive play. That the Terps stuffed it, with safety Kenny Tate beating Navy's lead blocker to the spot and crunching Dobbs down inches from the goal line, doesn't mean it wasn't the right thing to do. Whatever Maryland turns out to be this season, it's still an ACC, BCS school, and when a team like Navy, trying to gain the next level in college football, has a chance to take down a school in one of the power conferences, you take the shot a thousand times out of a thousand.
One decision. A thousand consequences.
So Maryland survived, in a game it could have, maybe should have, lost by two touchdowns. No matter; when you're coming off a 10-loss season, and the head coach is fighting for his coaching life, with the new athletic director watching his first game, getting 50 percent of your win total from a season ago in Week 1 is something to celebrate. Maybe "celebrate" is the wrong word. Maryland's coaching staff, high-fiving each other on the elevator down afterward, looked more exhausted than happy.
"I told (the players), last year, we wouldn't have finished," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "And I said that's the difference between winning and losing. When I'm working you real hard, and you're cussing me out, I'm trying to push you through this, to prepare you for a game like this. And what I'm hoping is that it will be a positive for them."
I always wonder how college coaches in any sport do it. You put your livelihood in the hands of teenagers and just-eligible-to-drink young adults, and how they perform on a given day determines what many people think of you. You're a genius or an idiot. It's different in the pros; everyone's an adult, and everyone's well-paid to be there. But because Tate -- the DeMatha High product who forced a fumble and made the game-saving tackle -- kept Dobbs three feet from where he wanted to go, Friedgen can keep the Crab Bowl trophy for a year, and keep the wolves at bay for five days, before a classic trap game at home against Morgan State on Saturday.
Yes, Friedgen is well-paid, too, and has been for a decade. So is Gary Williams. We all know that sports are, as Bill Parcells put it correctly, a results-oriented business. But Friedgen isn't any smarter or dumber now than he was when the Terps were playing big bowl games in January all those years. So how does he get his mind around the concept that his reputation, for good or ill, rests in the hands of youngsters?
"I don't look at it that way," Friedgen said afterward. “You talk about education? They got educated today. They learned some things about life that they won't learn in the classroom. That's how I kind of look at it. I really look at trying to be a mentor to these kids. . . . I like what I do. I like the people I do it with. And I'm very happy that I won, but I'm very proud of my players."
But the Fridge knows what a close call it was for him after last season, when former AD Debbie Yow tried to raise the funds necessary to buy him out of the remaining two years of his contract, as well as the $1 million it reportedly would have cost the school to get rid of coach-in-waiting James Franklin. And his players no doubt know how thin the ice is under Friedgen's feet this season. The Terps have a long slog in front of them, with West Virginia and Boston College and the rest of the ACC on tap.
What should be of equal concern to Maryland's new athletic director, Kevin Anderson, is that a neighborhood matchup that everyone's known about for seven months failed to sell out M&T Bank Stadium. A crowd of 69,348 is more than respectable, especially when college football fans had the option of going to Boise State-Virginia Tech at FedEx Field Monday night. But on a picture-perfect holiday Monday afternoon, not having every seat filled in a decidedly pro-Maryland venue -- though it was a great atmosphere all day, with the brilliant white of the Midshipmen in uniform providing great contrast to the sea of red that was in just about every nook and cranny of the place -- shows that some fans may take a wait-and-see approach to this year's squad.
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