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Saturday, September 27, 2008
Fickle Terps separating themselves in the Atlantic Division

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Less than halfway through the season, Maryland has managed to knock off two ranked teams and become one of the top two teams to beat in the Atlantic Division.

That's right, Maryland.

The same team that lost to Middle Tennessee.

The same team that needed three quarterbacks to beat Delaware by a touchdown.

The same team that played abysmal defense and got pushed around like practice dummies in the first half against Clemson.

Game to game and often half to half, Maryland's identity has been its inconsistency. And yet here the Terps are, sitting at 4-1 and heading into Charlottesville to face a bad Virginia team. After finally putting it all together in the second half on Saturday for a 20-17 upset of No. 19-ranked Clemson in a sold-out Memorial Stadium, the Terps proved they are capable of making a run for the Atlantic Division title if they can play to their potential for four quarters.

If.

"It's very frustrating and very exciting on the same hand because we have a chance to be very, very good," said offensive coordinator James Franklin. "But we have to be more consistent in how we play, we've got to be more consistent in how we prepare, and hopefully the light is going to go on. Hopefully the last two wins that we've had and this one, hopefully that's going to give us some momentum and this big win in a very tough situation, a very tough environment, hopefully that gets us over the edge."

Maryland quarterback Chris Turner and a quick makeover on defense got the Terps over the edge in the second half against Clemson. Turner said the first half was the "worst half we played all year, even worse than at Middle Tennessee." (That's saying a lot, considering he threw three interceptions in that game). Despite how poorly they were playing, the Terps only trailed by 11 points.

Turner threw for 107 of his 172 yards and added a touchdown in the second half.

"We just kind of figure it out as we go along it seems like," Turner said. "I don't know. It's frustrating. It doesn't feel good to be so down in the first half, but we pulled it off in the end. We need to get more consistent, there's no doubt about that."

Maryland's defense also improved from half to half.

After racking up 260 yards of total offense in the first half, Clemson was held to 112 in the second. The Tigers had 14 first downs in the first half, and five in the second. After combining for 193 rushing yards in the first half, James Davis and C.J. Spiller combined for 31 in the second.

Defensive end Dean Muhtadi struggled to explain their up and down performances.

"It's tough to say, or obviously we would've nailed it by now," he said. "I've got to say it's something that happens with extremely talented teams. I always said over the summer we have 30-some seniors and so much experience and ability coming back that if we finally realized that and play to our potential, we can beat anybody. We just started getting a little bit of that understanding in the second half."

The Terps have now reeled off three straight wins since that embarrassing 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee, and share the top spot in the Atlantic Division standings with Wake Forest at 1-0. Maryland will have a bye week to prepare for their Oct. 18 game against the Demon Deacons and should be 2-0 heading into that game. Should be. That's considering Maryland doesn't revert to its "other" personality at Virginia, a team that just received a 31-3 drubbing by Duke, the worst teams in the conference in the past decade.

"I think we've got a chance to win this whole thing, I really do," said defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre. "If we could just get clicking. We're a veteran team, but we still come in nervous and rattled in games like this when we've been here before. We've got to relax and come out and just play like we know we can play."

And they've got to do it for four quarters every week if they want to stay atop the Atlantic Division.