Paterno refuses to be fooled by Maryland's 0-3 mark

Phil Jackman

September 23, 1992|By Phil Jackman

There are ex-Maryland football players who have long since slipped into middle age while waiting to taste victory over Penn State, even vicariously. In addition to the laughable series edge (33-1-1) held by the Nittany Lions, they're cruising along with a 3-0 record at present.

So what's a coach like Joe Paterno to do to rouse his stalwarts to the challenge of facing a Terrapins team that is winless after three games, and has a losing streak of eight dating to the middle of last season?

"All I'd have to do is show the tapes," says Paterno. "We've exchanged all three games with them [the Terps] and they're a team that should be no worse than 2-1. In fact, they could be 3-0 instead of 0-3."

Maryland coach Mark Duffner's sentiments exactly.

Paterno assured that his estimate of the Maryland situation "is not just coaching talk," which certainly qualifies as a matter of opinion, and that his lads are "anxious for the challenge of a good, tough game against comparable athletes."

As ridiculous as that sounds -- elevating the downtrodden Terrapins, winners of just 25 of their past 70 games, to the stature of Penn State -- look at recent meetings between the teams through Paterno's eyes.

"If you look at the record, it doesn't appear that way, but we've had a very, very competitive series. There have been some exciting, close games and I think we'll have another one Saturday," he said.

To stress the point, Joe need only refer to the past six contests closing out the 1980s. Besides the only tie in the series, a 13-13 standoff in Baltimore, Penn State logged five wins by scores of 25-24, 20-18, 17-15, 21-16 and 17-10.

Don't go telling any of the folks up in Happy Valley about the other personality the schizophrenic Terrapins take on when they go against their second-division brethren in the ACC.

"From what I've seen, Maryland's playing with even more enthusiasm and intensity this year," says Paterno. "They've made every team play at their pace and that can make it tough on you. For instance, it is a concern keeping fresh defensive people on the field when a team's throwing a hundred plays at you [as Maryland did against North Carolina State]."

And just as the Terps put pressure on you with their slightly misnamed run-and-shoot offense, Paterno contends it's no stroll the park going against their defense either.

"Just as the offense is aggressive and innovative, that's the way they like to play defense, too, " the coach continued. "Their schemes don't give you much room or time; they like to play with eight guys around the ball, and they seem to enjoy coming after you, challenging you."

It's when Maryland has the ball, though, that gives Paterno that squeamish feeling: "I don't know if I'd call it a run-and-shoot lTC because they don't use as much motion or sprint-out stuff as is usually the case. But it is similar to what [top-ranked] Miami does, the difference being they go without a huddle.

"Besides not giving the defense time to make adjustments after it has gotten set for a play, they wear you down with the number of plays they've been running. The guys doing the bulk of the work, Mark Mason and John Kaleo, are both good, solid players.

"While Mason is breaking a lot of tackles and getting the tough yards in addition to catching the ball, Kaleo's learning the system and getting better all the time. He throws to everyone on the field and that's what makes it tough."

While Maryland was able to charge up and down the field in its first two losses, it fell nearly impotent upon arriving within spitting distance of the goal line. That all changed against West Virginia, however, the offense finishing off the job with points every time it got inside the 20-yard line.

Kaleo's numbers have been excellent all along, the lone minuses being interceptions and some questionable decisions in pressure situations. With 85 connections in 150 attempts good for 788 yards, and with points starting to pour in, it seems obvious Maryland is getting the hurry-up attack down pretty well.

Joe Paterno might have over-stated his team's assignment slightly, mentioning the Terps in the same breath with Miami (offensively) and Washington (defensively). But when you haven't lost to an opponent since 1961, you have to take any means possible to ward off the law of averages and prevent all those aging ex-Terps from getting too uppity.

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