COLLEGE PARK -- Any football coach worth his whistle and stretch-waist pants will tell you his game is just too complicated for the average couch spud and spudette to understand. Me, I must beg to differ. (Particularly after listening to living legend Bo Schembechler on ABC this year. "Terrific first half, should be a terrific second half," he says. Whew, stop spinnin' us, Bo.)
When his team gets beat on a long pass, any coach worth his whistle and stretch-waisters will say, "We were in a double-down Z twist and they flagged the marker in the seam and zittled the Sarah gap." As if it was as incomprehensible as South American politics. Or American politics. Anyway, a more precise explanation usually is that Carl the Cornerback was thinking about his homecoming date and covered a guard instead of the end.
But see, you hang around coaches long enough and you start buying into the notion that the game is indeed as complicated as they say. I used to believe it. Then one day this offensive tackle I knew summed it all up thusly: "If we knock their butts in the mud, we win. If they knock our butts in the mud, they win." I must confess that the content of my analysis has never been the same.
All of which brings us to Larry Washington, the freshman runner from Randallstown who arrived at Maryland amid much huzzah-huzzah this season. He has played little -- more lately, but still not much. Why? The Terps' coaches, like most of their brethren, would have you believe the sport is a bit complex for such a youngster. Me, I must beg to differ.
Maybe Washington wasn't ready when the season began, being overweight, injured and a little confused. But he is ready now, and the Terps should use him more. That he is ready was plainly apparent in the Terps' 17-13 loss to Duke yesterday. That they should use him more is plainly apparent upon review of the Terps' record, which now stands at 2-5 with a south-bound bullet.
This year is a washout. It's gotten ugly and it's going to get uglier, maybe even 2-9 ugly. The smart thing to do, as the boys in finance would say, is cut your losses and start on next year. Pronto. And there is no better place to start than Washington, who, with fellow backs Mark Mason and Raphael Wall, represent the Terps' hope for moving back up the ladder.
For me, see, it just isn't that complicated. The Terps used three backs yesterday: senior Troy Jackson, redshirt freshman Doug Burnett and Washington. Jackson and Burnett are solid, competent backs. But after the game, coach Joe Krivak was complaining again about the lack of big plays, a constant problem in 1991. Memo to Joe: Look at No. 32. There are your big plays.
Washington had 10 carries yesterday, but half came in a flash on his only real chance of the day: a fourth-quarter drive that gave the 35,000 fans an exhilarating glimpse of the future. Washington slanting off tackle for 4. Blasting up the middle for 14, a leg tackle away from breaking it. A loss of 1. Back up the middle -- boom -- for 11. Off tackle for 8 more.
Total: 36 yards in two minutes. Reaction: It sure would be interesting to see him get more chances to carry the load. Washington's reaction: "The one drive was nice. But I thought I was going to play more today. I was thinking maybe 10 carries in the first half, not the whole game. But I guess I have to wait my turn."
He does because Krivak prefers not to play freshmen. He barely used Mason until near the end of last season. The kid started breaking long runs as soon as he got to play. Yesterday, talking about quarterback Jim Sandwisch, Krivak let his philosophy slip: "I'm not going to pull a senior as long as the effort is there."
Troy Jackson certainly gives the effort. He played hurt and ran hard yesterday, as always. He deserves the respect Krivak gives him. But if the Terps are to shake out of this losing cycle -- it's going to be four losing seasons in the last five -- Krivak needs to get more aggressive on personnel matters.
It just isn't that complicated. We couch spuds can trust our eyes sometimes. Washington looks like the best back in uniform because he is. He isn't particularly big, but he is strong, tough and has a big-play flair. Some backs just have a knack.
Sure, he let a pass slip off his hands and gave Duke a key interception in the final minutes. A freshman mistake? Please. The kid can catch a football. He was wide-open coming out of the backfield a half-dozen times yesterday. Goodness knows what he could have done. "I kept telling [Sandwisch]," he said. "I don't think he was listening."
It's time for that to stop. The quarterback should listen. The coaches should trust their eyes and forget their conservative instincts. Fans were chanting for Washington yesterday, and who could blame them? You get a hot running back on your team, you don't sit him. You put him on the field and you give him the ball. It isn't that complicated. It just isn't.