COLLEGE PARK -- Troy Jackson gave a new twist to an old saw when he came to Maryland.
"If you can't join 'em, beat 'em," said the Terps' junior running back.
Jackson, you see, had his heart set on playing for North Carolina. He went to Lafayette High in Williamsburg, Va., the school that spawned Lawrence Taylor, now the New York Giants' linebacking dreadnought.
"He was my idol," Jackson said as he prepared for Saturday's game at No. 7 Michigan. "I dreamed of going to North Carolina, like L.T. did. The problem was, North Carolina didn't want me."
Unable to join the Tar Heels, Jackson arrived at Maryland with the intention of beating them. His first opportunity to help do that as a regular will be Oct. 27, when the Terps travel to Chapel Hill.
During the first four games, Jackson has emerged as Maryland's chief rusher. He is hardly the equal of Jon Vaughn, Michigan's NCAA rushing leader with a 244.5-yard average, but he has been serviceable.
Jackson leads the team in attempts (61), having carried the ball on more than half of the Terps' running plays, and in net yards (218) and yards per game (52). He has their lone two touchdowns on the ground.
But Jackson and his offensive teammates know they can do better. Although it's true Maryland's accent is on passing (179 passes for 1,189 yards to 117 runs for 244 yards), the average of 2.1 yards per rush simply is insufficient.
"As backs, we have to make better decisions on our cuts," Jackson said. "We've missed some holes. We feel that will come with experience."
Said offensive coordinator Tony Whittlesey, "We do need more from our running game. We have to break some tackles, make people miss, block better. Production is down, yes, but running is double-faceted -- you have to block as well as run.
"It's hard to run when you don't have any place to go. That's not always the case, just sometimes."
Coming into spring practice in 1989, his freshman year, Jackson was No. 5 behind Mike Beasley, Ricky Johnson, Bren Lowery and Andre Vaughn. Then Beasley transferred to West Virginia and Vaughn hurt his knee and missed the entire 1989 season.
"That was the hardest part, being No. 5," Jackson said. "But I didn't think about transferring. I was here to stay. Plus, I didn't have the grades to transfer."
He played in five games last season as a backup, then claimed the No. 1 job when no fewer than four running backs departed.
"He had a decent spring, but fumbled a lot," Whittlesey said. "We also were concerned if he'd hold up, because he had a history of being hurt a lot. So he was a question mark.
"He has worked hard to learn and has done well. He was unproven. He had practiced, but had never taken a snap when the game meant anything. He has given all he can give."
Jackson feels his strength is on third-down plays with short yardage. He was 4-for-4 in those situations in last week's win over North Carolina State, and scored the Terps' only touchdown in a 13-12 victory.
The game-winning points were delivered on Dan DeArmas' field goal with 11 seconds left, moments after N.C. State had given Maryland one last chance by fumbling.
"I came out after the last interception and sat on the bench," Jackson said. "A voice inside me said, 'They're going to fumble.' I walked to the sideline and darned if they didn't fumble. We believe in ourselves."
* The Terps' Frank Wycheck had 12 receptions against N.C. State, raising his total to 38 and putting him in a tie for second in the country. He needs only 14 catches to overtake Greg Hill as the school's single-season record-holder. Hill caught 51 passes in 1984.
Maryland is ninth in the country in passing with 294 yards a game . . . Quarterback Scott Zolak is ninth in total offense (264.3).