COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Senior cornerback Jeremiah Johnson has seen glimpses of it on the game film he has already studied this week. There’s a little bit of something familiar in what visiting Rutgers is bringing to the Nov. 29 Senior Day game at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.
“My freshman year I was so wet behind the ears, and I don’t remember as much because I definitely didn’t watch as much film,” said Johnson. “I remember certain things, though, like route concepts.”
More like Ralph concepts. Nov. 29 at 3:30, as 22 seniors bid farewell to their Byrd nest, the coach who recruited most of them, Ralph Friedgen, is back in town as the offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights (6-5, 2-5) in their first Big Ten Conference meeting with Big Ten fellow fledging Maryland.
“It means the world for (Friedgen) to be here, especially it being senior day,” said sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown, who got in a couple of years under Friedgen. “Obviously he was the reason I came to this school and for him to see me through, this being my last home game, is kind of ironic.”
Brown was among a handful of seniors available to the media Nov. 25 at Randy Edsall’s press conference, who said they had maintained at least some level of contact with the former Terrapin top guy, whether it was just gang-holiday texts or a congratulatory note here and there.
Johnson, who was personally recruited by current Penn State coach James Franklin, said the emotions would be similar to when the Terrapins went against the Nittany Lions, only now there’s the added emotion of one final game in Byrd for the seniors.
“It’s going to be fun, good to see him back at Byrd, and at the same time trying to beat him, just like he’s going to be trying to beat us,” said Johnson. “Coach Friedgen is a proud guy and he’s going to have the team ready to come in here. We have to spoil that.”
The Terrapins (7-4, 4-3) have been something of a spoiler all year, disproving naysayers who said the former ACC program couldn’t weather the Big Ten gauntlet. But here the Terps are, already bowl eligible, winners of conference road games at Indiana, Penn State and most recently, Nov. 22 in ‘The Big House,’ with a 23-16 triumph over a Michigan team that had to win that contest to reach a bowl.
“That’s one thing we really wanted to do this year, was prove a lot of people wrong,” said senior nose tackle Darius Kilgo. “We wanted to prove that we were a program that could come into this conference and win.”
Kilgo looks back on his four seasons, the last three as a starter, and is proud of what he and his classmates have accomplished. “We’re guys that have stuck together through thick and thin, and for the most part, it has really paid off for us. I’ve enjoyed the guys I came in with and the best way to finish it off is with a win [Nov. 29].”
Kilgo was recruited by Friedgen’s staff, too, but he said Maryland was always his top choice no matter who was coaching. No doubt, Kilgo and that senior-laden front seven will have a lot to say in how matters evolve Nov. 29 after kickoff. The entire front three – Kilgo in the middle, flanked by all-time Maryland sack-leader Andre Monroe and steady Keith Bowers, coming off one of his best games – will be a key in containing Friedgen’s offense (under head coach Kyle Flood).
Ditto the starting linebackers, the senior quartet of Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree in the middle, and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and Matt Robinson on the outside.
What Rutgers Runs
“They’re very efficient,” said Goree of the Rutgers offense. “They’re a solid team. I think they’re better than their record indicates.”
The Scarlet Knights also may have a chip on their shoulder, and not just because of a fired-up Friedgen, but coming off a bye and a 45-3 thumping the week before at Michigan State. In fact, the Knights have lost four of their last five games, sneaking in a 45-23 win over Indiana on Nov. 15.
Like Maryland, though, Rutgers is headed to a second straight bowl and they’d like a win in the finale to improve bowl-slotting, and, well, to see just whose No. 1 among Big Ten newcomers.
They have three seniors in the offensive line and another senior, Gary Nova, at quarterback. Junior Leonte Carroo has team-highs of 47 catches for a whopping 939 yards (second in the Big Ten) and eight touchdowns this year, and they’ve got a committee of running backs, including that rarest of football breeds, a fullback that isn’t just an afterthought, particularly in the passing game.
“Their front five has a lot of experience, and so does their quarterback.,” said Kilgo. “We’re going to have focus on stopping (Nova). He can make a lot of plays on the run.”
Goree was hoping he would get to see Friedgen on the field before the game Nov. 29, and he reflected back on the fallout after Friedgen left and Edsall took over, the Terrapins stumbling to 2-10 that first season.
“It has been special even though we lost so many guys that first year,” he said of several Terrapins transferring. “Some of those guys, and a lot of them were great guys, they even say, ‘Maybe I should have stayed at Maryland,’ now. It’s all about staying true to your craft, staying true to what you believe in. I believe in Maryland. I’m from Maryland. I’m a Maryland guy.”
It was a pretty good week for “Maryland guys.” On the field, came the historic win at Michigan in a first trip to The Big House as a Big Ten conference member. Off the field, came the announcement of the $155 million project to renovate Cole Field House into a football practice facility and home for the Terrapin Performance Center.
“I think the win showed we can take this program to the next level and really compete in this conference,” said C.J. Brown. “Adding new facilities and upgrading things will only make us bigger, better and stronger.”
“The University steps up to make the commitment to the program and the student-athletes, it makes a huge difference,” said Edsall of the new facility. “It’s a big plus for us. With the announcement coming and we go out and beat Michigan, I think it shows they’re making a wise investment.”
Terps Topping Expectations
Not many folks expected Maryland to be going for an eighth victory in the regular season heading into the home finale. Edsall has used that doubt as motivation all year.
“I think the thing with the team is the fact that we had something we wanted to prove this year,” the coach said. “We had a lot of doubters that said we couldn’t compete and win in the Big Ten. I think we have proven that we can compete and win in the Big Ten. I think it’s a great lesson for everybody that you play the games and see what happens at the end of the season. That’s what our guys did.
“They have a chip on the shoulder and they’re a team. They care about each other. They want to win for each other. It’s not about individuals, and we’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity with injuries and other things but nobody could crack us.”
Brown, who looks rejuvenated after the big road win (and Maryland is 5-1 on the road), is looking at cracking the Scarlet Knights defense. He described Rutgers as a “bend but don’t break defense” that runs a lot of man-to-man coverage. Brown didn’t say it but some of his best days have come against predominately man-to-man defenses, defenders with their back to him when he pulls the ball down and runs.
Brown had a great game at Michigan, running for 87 yards and a score, and completing 13-of-24 passes for another 165 yards, all with no turnovers. He looked more confident and seemed to shed that problem of locking in on receivers after his pre-snap read.
Brown’s 8-yard scoring run was the 54th touchdown running or throwing of his career, a new Maryland record passing Scott Milanovich (1992-95) for the most touchdowns accounted for.
“For C.J., in particular, you just take a look at what he has been through,” said Edsall, talking about the senior class. “With the injuries he has had since he has been here, some of the ups and downs that he had. I think the one thing is that he has been an outstanding leader and he has been a guy that has gotten better. To see him come back and play the way he is capable of last week, it just tells you who he is and what he has got inside of him.”
Brown was on the same page with his coach when asked about his career at Maryland, through the knee injuries, the battle with Danny O’Brien for the starting job, more injuries. “I think the biggest thing has been to kind of lead this team through an era of ups and downs and then go to back-to-back bowl games now. And to go from the ACC to the Big Ten, it’s definitely exciting. It’s historic, and something I will look back on with a lot of pride.”
Six years sure can fly by, huh, C.J.?
The quarterback laughed. “Yeah, especially the last two, and especially this year, it seems like just yesterday we were in camp.”
Johnson, who has been through injury woes of his own the last two years, thinks the whole football experience in College Park has gone too fast.
“I remember my first couple of practices and now here it is my last home game,” he said. “It does go by fast. We’ve seen the program shift in an upward direction. I think you can reflect back and see what kind of leadership we’ve had on this team, and I’m proud to be a part of that. We pushed each other. We stuck together.”
One senior starter is still getting adjusted to that particular role. Fifth-year senior left tackle Jake Wheeler made his first start Nov. 22, impressing coaches with his work in practice and well, Maryland needing to find something –anything—to help a sagging running game.
“Not once did I think Maryland wasn’t the right choice for me,” said Wheeler, who has already completed his degree requirements. “I knew I would have to work hard to get in the position I need to be in. It was about keep working, keep grinding. It took awhile but finally I was able to seize my opportunity.”
“Here was a guy that hadn’t played hardly at all in his career and he came back for a fifth year,” explained Edsall. “He stayed positive and you take a look where he is in the last two or three games of his career – first career start in The Big House against Michigan, pretty darn good.”
Edsall spoke highly of all his seniors:
“Take a look at this year,” he said. “They were the group that led us into the Big Ten. They took Maryland football to some places it had never been before, and beating some teams that we never beat before. These are the guys that really kind of laid the groundwork and built the foundation of what the program is all about and (what) it stands for. I’m always going to be indebted to them.”
UMD Has Senior Day And ‘Homecoming’ Saturday
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