A Trip to Death Valley Looms for Terps

The Terps will face a hungry Clemson team in a hostile environment to prepare for the stretch run.

As you walk through the heart of the University of Maryland campus, you can’t help but feel like you’re on the 50-yard line of a football game. But on a weekday afternoon, it’s not a game – it’s the Terps’ preparation for an upcoming road trip.

Forty-three and 15 over the past eight seasons – Clemson’s home record – and you wonder why teams fear playing the Tigers at home.

Memorial Stadium, or more commonly referred to as Death Valley, is the next big test for the Terps in their turnaround season. At 4-1 and receiving two votes in the most recent USA Today Poll, the team lacks a signature win on the road – something Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen believes his team needs.

“What we need is [a game] like this one coming up – playing in a great atmosphere against a very good football team will really help the growth of our football team,” Friedgen said.

What Death Valley presents is a hostile crowd, known for their ability to crank up the volume. “I just think Death Valley is a great, great place to play football. To me, it’s what college football is all about,” Friedgen insinuated.

“If you’ve been to Clemson, it’s just an unbelievable atmosphere. It’s going to be very, very loud – it’s something that you have to deal with and have to keep your poise, have to keep your confidence and that’s something critical for us to being successful,” he added.

While that type of atmosphere provides a favorable advantage for the home team, it seconds as a disastrous formula for the road team. Difficulty with snap counts, audibles and problems with communication are usually the result.

“It’s going to be loud. Those people are extremely passionate about South Carolina, the state of South Carolina, football in the state of South Carolina and Clemson,” offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

In the Maryland-Clemson rivalry, Friedgen has led his team to Death Valley and left victorious three out of four times. Between 2005 and 2008, in fact, the road team won in four straight games until last season, when the Terps edged the Tigers, 24-21 at home.

“We’ve been successful there in the past; we’ve got guys on our team that have there been successful,” Franklin said, suggesting the team will have to build off of those positive memories.

The Terps will also try and encompass the lessons learned following their 31-17 loss to West Virginia earlier this season. Playing in Morgantown, like Death Valley, is an intimidating setting with a vociferous crowd. But an encouraging second half effort against the Mountaineers may set the trail for their trip to Clemson.

“Even though we had a tough one up there, playing against the crowd,” defensive lineman Joe Vellano said, the difference in the team’s level play from the first and second halves, showed, “everybody is kind of used it now – as much as you can be.”

The coaching staff has simulated crowd noise earlier in the practice week than they did before their matchup against the Mountaineers. Learning to acclimate to the noise and distractions, according to Friedgen, is a test of poise. And practice is where it starts.

“[Friedgen] turns it up as loud as it can be. You can’t really hear and there are a lot of signals. On our side of the ball, it’s a lot of communication and getting used to it,” Vellano said.

Offensively, the offensive line is making an effort to focus their attention and be able to communication. For the quarterback, it’s learning to cope with the volume and keeping your poise.

“We do silent counts, so we have to make sure everybody is off the ball at the same time,” tight end Matt Furstenburg said. “We’re just going to have play fundamentally sound, and as a group be in sync.”

A win for the Terps Saturday would be a promising sign, as the team faces four more road tests, including the likes of Boston College, Miami, Virginia and North Carolina State. Beating Clemson on their territory – it’s a good start.

“Coach Friedgen says to win the league, you got to win on the road,” Vellano said. “We’ve been really good here,” referring the Terps’ undefeated record at Byrd Stadium, “but winning on the road is where it’s going to come down to.”

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