Terps' D plays to perfection, stymies W. Va

September 17, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- They were laughed at two years ago.

Now they can't stop smiling.

West Virginia was without its top offensive threat, and a steady rain made running hard and passing harder, but nothing could detract from the performance of Maryland's defense last night, as that unit set up a 31-17 victory at Byrd Stadium.

A soggy gathering of 48,055, the largest at Maryland in 10 years, saw the Terps improve to 3-0 for the first time since 1986. They haven't begun a season with four straight wins since the 1978 team started 8-0, and coach Mark Duffner's team surely will be favored when Duke comes to Byrd next Saturday.

The Terps have won in the air-conditioned comfort of the Superdome, on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and now in the rain, and all the victories have been by at least two touchdowns. It's the kind of dominance that could crack the Top 25 this afternoon.

"The field conditions weren't pretty, but the fight in this team is something else," said Duffner, who began the season on shaky ground but had a full house behind him last night. "With the weather, it was magnificent for our team to see all those people. What I liked is that they didn't leave early either."

Actually, they probably wanted to stick around to make sure they weren't hallucinating.

Maryland won at West Virginia last year, but the Big East Conference's Mountaineers (1-2) were slight favorites last night, thanks to an offense that averaged 503 yards in their first two games. Duffner said it wasn't pretty, but the raw numbers posted by the Terps' defense, which two years ago set an NCAA record for yards allowed in a season, looked beautiful:

* With tailback Robert Walker out with a sprained ankle, the Mountaineers mustered 211 yards total offense, the fewest the Terps have allowed in five years.

* West Virginia committed seven turnovers, six of them were caused by Maryland's defense.

* The Terps kept West Virginia out of the end zone for 40 minutes, as the Mountaineers' first touchdown was provided by their defense.

Maryland even made plays laying down, as the first of cornerback Chad Scott's two interceptions came on his back.

"Each game, you feel a little stronger," said Scott, who played at Towson State last year. "This is a very together group, and we feel more confident every time out."

That bravado was evident with three minutes to go in the third quarter, and Maryland clinging to a 24-17 lead.

The Terps' offense, which was hampered by its first four turnovers of the season, had just exited after three plays. On its previous possession, West Virginia's offense had moved 65 yards for its only touchdown of the night, and now it was another drive away from tying the game or going ahead.

If you think the Maryland defense was rattled, forget it.

On first down, sophomore defensive end Eric Ogbogu separated the ball from Mountaineers quarterback Chad Johnston, and linebacker Ratcliff Thomas had his second fumble recovery of the game at the Mountaineers' 17-yard line.

"West Virginia hung around the whole game," said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, whose unit has forced 14 turnovers. "We were never able to separate ourselves from them until late in the game, but we kept finding ways to make the plays."

In quick order after the Ogbogu-forced fumble, sophomore quarterback Brian Cummings completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis, and the lead was back to two touchdowns, where it stayed through a sloppy fourth quarter.

That pass was a milestone play for Lewis, as he set Maryland records with his 135th career catch and 19th touchdown reception. Sophomore superback Buddy Rodgers rushed for 112 yards, but it was the defense's night to crow.

The Terps also got another boost from their special teams.

Joe O'Donnell booted the longest field goal of his career, a 47-yarder, and the Mountaineers fumbled away one of his kickoffs. The punt return team harassed Brian West into a long night, and punter Russell Edwards averaged 42.3 yards, as the Terps continued to thrive while quarterback/punter Scott Milanovich serves a four-game gambling suspension.

Rodgers' 54-yard touchdown put the Terps on top 7-3 with 4:45 to go in the first quarter, and they never trailed again. That play featured a huge downfield block from 321-pound tackle Darryl Gilliam, and sent a message that the Mountaineers were about to get out-muscled.

West Virginia's Wilkie Perez fumbled O'Donnell's kickoff, and four players later, Cummings faked into the line and beat two defenders to the right corner for the Terps' second touchdown in 76 seconds, an 11-yard run that made it 14-3 with 1:13 left in the first quarter.

Maryland could have blown the game open in the second quarter, but the offense followed West Virginia's cue and began playing giveaway.

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