COLLEGE PARK -- Just when it appeared things couldn't get worse for Maryland's football team, they did.
It was bad enough that the Terps clinched their fourth losing season in five years under coach Joe Krivak by sleepwalking through a 24-0 loss to North Carolina. It was bad enough that it left them with a 2-6 record with muscular Penn State coming up next.
Now, Maryland must struggle through the rest of its season, the testiest part -- against No. 9 Penn State, No. 15 Clemson and No. 18 North Carolina State -- without three dependable players.
Defensive end Joel Goode, linebacker Louis Johnson and defensive tackle Derek Steele yesterday were declared ineligible for the rest of the season because of low grades. The action was taken after a mid-semester review of their academic progress by the academic committee of the university's athletic council.
Goode, a redshirt senior from McKeesport, Pa., started the last five games, was tied for fifth on the team with 51 tackles and
had three sacks and six tackles for losses. His six fumbles forced are a team-high.
Johnson, a sophomore from Washington, started three games and was second behind Mike Jarmolowich in tackles with 67. Steele, a senior backup from Newport News, Va., had 15 tackles.
Krivak, looking grim, acted like a man reluctant to say anything for fear of saying something he might regret. The fact he knew what the players needed to do academically, but didn't, didn't make their loss any easier to swallow.
"What can I say?" Krivak said. "What difference does it make what my reaction is? We lost three people, and now we have to get three more ready to play."
The players most likely to see more activity as a result of the loss of the three ineligibles include Darren Colvin, Goode's backup at end; tackle Darren Drozdov; and linebacker Hugh Brown.
Goode, Johnson and Steele had been living on the edge, academically, for months. After summer school, they were still shaky, and appealed then for continued eligibility, a standard procedure. It was granted on the condition that they have 2.0 grade-point
averages at mid-semester. They didn't.
"It's especially difficult at mid-semester because in a sense the entire football squad is penalized when it loses three players with games remaining," said athletic director Andy Geiger. "But if you have standards and don't enforce them, you really don't have standards."
Geiger is as shocked as most people at Maryland by the wretched season that unfolded on the heels of last year's 6-5-1 record that seemed to hold such promise.
"Our expectations haven't meshed with what the team has been able to do," Geiger said. "Rather than improve, the situation has deteriorated. That's alarming and disappointing.
"All we can do at this point is rally around. When things get hard and a team fails, the sniping starts. Our three toughest games are ahead. We just have to rally around."
Co-captain and center Mitch Suplee recalls the mood of the team after the opening win over Virginia: ecstatic and thirsting for more conquests. The Terps have won only once since, edging Wake Forest, 23- 22, when they were more lucky than good.
"You hope to build confidence along the way, but we haven't, and the [tough] schedule hasn't helped," Suplee said. "We've had key injuries [tailback Mark Mason, offensive tackle Steve Ingram and defensive back Scott Rosen are out for the season] and things piled up, one after another. Before you knew it, it was disaster."
Suplee concedes that Saturday's loss to North Carolina was "our worst game of the year," but is not ready to condemn the team for lack of effort.
"Everybody makes an effort to a point, but there's always more you can give," Suplee said.
And where does Maryland go from here? To Baltimore for Saturday's game against Penn State.
"This is our bowl game," Suplee said. "I'm not going to predict we'll win, but we're going to lay it on the line. We have nothing to save it for."
When a team is 2-6 with three games to go, those words have the ring of truth.
Larry Washington, the freshman running back out of RandallstownHigh, is expected to play Saturday despite what Krivak calls "a burner on his neck and a slightly hyperextended knee." Washington picked up those nicks in the course of rushing 10 times for 33 yards against North Carolina.