Maryland shoots for top 25 spot Victory over No. 16 Clemson would provide big boost

September 12, 1990|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- The last time a University of Marylan football team had a ranking in the top 25 was Sept. 28, 1985. On that day, No. 17 Maryland lost to Michigan, 20-0.

"That was the year before I got here," said Clarence Jones, Maryland's senior offensive tackle. "That's when Maryland was winning ACC titles, going to bowl games and staying in the rankings every year."

Some of the Terps (2-0) believe those days could return -- or at least a position in the top 25 could return -- if they beat No. 16 Clemson (1-1) Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Maryland had 41 votes in this week's Associated Press poll, and was ranked 28th behind Alabama (104 votes) and Fresno State (51).

The prospect of a return to the top 25 has some of the players approaching Saturday's game with guarded optimism.

"We beat West Virginia and they were ranked, and if we beat Clemson, another ranked team, I don't see how they can keep us out," Terps quarterback Scott Zolak said.

"My freshman year, we won our first three games, then went 5-5-1 for the season," senior outside linebacker Jack Bradford said. "I think some of the guys remember that. I think we're real excited about the possibility of being ranked. It would be a great reward for the hard work we have put in, but it's going to be a hard job to get into that position. Clemson is better than Virginia Tech and West Virginia."

The possibility of a ranking as well as an improved Maryland team gives this game more of an appeal than past seasons. Recently, the Clemson-Marylandgame was seen as another stop Clemson's road to the Atlantic Coast Conference title. Maryland hasn't beaten Clemson since a 34-31 victory in 1985.

But the Tigers have a new coach, Ken Hatfield, and Saturday Clemson lost to Virginia, 20-7, for the first time. Maryland has surprised many of the preseason forecasters with a 2-0 record and a defense that has been nearly brilliant.

Besides a national ranking, a Maryland victory would make the Terps a contender for the ACC title. A win by Clemson would put the Tigers back in the title hunt.

"Big, big game," said Zolak. "We're trying not to get too high because we're only 2-0 and there's nine more games to play on a tough schedule, but this has all been a positive experience."

The game could be a defensive battle since both teams have large numbers of returning starters and both offenses have struggled.

Clemson's defense, with nine starters returning, has held the opposition to an average of 207.5 yards of total offense. The Tigers' four linebackers -- Levon Kirkland, John Johnson, Doug Brewster and Ed McDaniel -- are regarded as one of the best units in the country.

And all of their perimeter people, including cornerbacks Dexter Davis and Jerome Henderson, can run at least a 4.6 in the 40-yard --.

"That's the thing that sticks out the most about their defense," said Tony Whittlesey, Maryland's offensive coordinator. "We've got to find away to block their linebackers. Hatfield came in and saw the high number of defensive starters, and pretty much kept the scheme as it was. And their defensive linemen, well, they're bigger than most buildings in that town."

Without question, this is the best defense Maryland has faced. The problem is that the Terps have struggled offensively. They have been able to move the ball, averaging 376 yards of total offense, but they have had trouble scoring, averaging only 17 points.

Is it because of the nine new starters on offense or is it because of the newly implemented one-back set?

"Turnovers," said coach Joe Krivak. "A fumble here. An interception there. You fail to pick up a blitz or miss a field goal. That's the part of the game that is the human part of the game. Those are the things we would like to get smoothed out."

There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the Terps defense, which has nine returning starters. Led by linebackers Glenn Page (team-leading 28 tackles) and Bradford (17 tackles), Maryland has held opponents to 272.5 yards of total offense, including only 109.5 rushing.

Maryland's strength against the run would seem perfect for Clemson, which runs a lot of option from the I-formation. But neither Virginia Tech nor West Virginia had as much speed as Clemson, and neither team ran as much option, an offense that has given Maryland fits through the years.

Clemson is averaging 180.5 yards rushing per game, and that's with anentirely new backfield from a year ago.

"Their speed on the perimeter has been a trouble area for us," Krivak said. "They just have tremendous athletic talent and they are very physical."

One factor that may help Maryland is playing in Memorial Stadium. The Terps have played well there since 1984. Last year, an injury-riddled Terps team tied Penn State, 13-13, breaking a losing streak to the Nittany Lions that went back to 1961.

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