Terps better in '94, optimistic about '95

November 21, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Florida State is 24-0 in three seasons against Atlantic Coast Conference competition. Virginia and North Carolina State meet Saturday for second place in the ACC and a prime bowl berth.

Besides occupying the top three spots in the ACC, those teams had another thing in common this season: All three trailed Maryland in the second half.

The Terps narrowed some of the gap between themselves and the ACC in 1994, but they were unable to hold on to any of those leads, and finished 2-6 in the conference for the third time in as many seasons under coach Mark Duffner.

The 4-7 overall mark represented more mediocrity for restless Maryland fans, but Duffner, whose three-year mark is 9-24, will point to the Terps' best season since 1990 and 14 returning starters to back up his claim that the program is moving in the right direction.

"We've seen how close we are," Duffner said. "We'll go into the off-season with a better attitude, a better outlook than we did a year ago."

It wasn't hard to improve on a 1993 team that set an NCAA record for defensive futility and was lucky to avoid the first 10-loss season in Maryland history.

When three sophomore defensive linemen were declared academically ineligible on the eve of the season opener and the Terps got ripped by Duke, 49-16, Maryland appeared headed to another disastrous season.

Buoyed by a decent first half against Florida State and the inspiration of senior Jamie Bragg, who switched from center to defensive tackle, Maryland crammed victories over West Virginia, Wake Forest, Tulane and Georgia Tech into a six-game span.

Even that success was bathed in controversy. Backup quarterback Kevin Foley rescued the offense at West Virginia. He played more than Scott Milanovich in the next two games, but when the run-and-shoot sputtered in a shutout loss at Clemson, Duffner switched back to Milanovich for the last six games.

The humbled junior threw 166 consecutive passes without an interception, and finished the season 226 of 330 for 2,366 yards and 20 touchdowns. The ACC's all-time leader in passing efficiency will be back in 1995, along with three of his top four receivers, three experienced offensive linemen and a trio of freshman backs who will compete next spring for the job vacated by Allen Williams.

Eight starters will return to a defense that allowed 434.4 yards per game, one of the worst averages in the nation but the Terps' best in several seasons. On Saturday, that unit shut out Syracuse over the final 39 minutes, but a Maryland comeback fell short and the Terps ended with a three-game losing streak.

A year after it was without a dependable kicker, the Terps had two. Transfer Joe O'Donnell walked on and beat freshman recruit Brad Rhodes for the job. O'Donnell hit nine of 10 field goals, believed to be the best rate in school history.

Maryland had 76 scholarship players, nine below the NCAA limit, and it's imperative that the Terps improve their depth. Senior departures will allow Duffner to bring in 25 new scholarship players, the NCAA maximum.

Only a handful of players who arrived under the previous regime will remain, and his recruits of the past few years will have to step up if Duffner is going to deliver the goods Maryland anticipated when it hired him three years ago.

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