2-0 Terps travel into tougher territory No. 22 Virginia, improved ACC loom

September 09, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The nonconference cupcakes have been consumed, and now it's time for Maryland to deal with the meat-and-potatoes portion of its football schedule.

The Terps used a 4-0 turnover margin to blast Alabama-Birmingham, 39-15, Saturday night at Byrd Stadium.

It was their second straight 24-point victory over an outmanned visitor, but now Maryland must put on its traveling shoes. The Terps play six of their last nine games on the road, starting Saturday (noon) at No. 22 Virginia.

Maryland committed only one turnover in its first two games, but plenty of other mistakes need to be cleaned up if the Terps are going to continue their climb in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which appears considerably stronger than a year ago.

"Whatever honeymoon it was, it's over," junior quarterback Brian Cummings said.

"The defense is playing extraordinary, but I think we need to step it up. We're playing a great team in Virginia.

"This is not one of those situations where we have better talent."

The Cavaliers opened with a 55-21 romp over Central Michigan on Saturday, George Welsh's 99th win as Virginia's coach, the most in ACC history.

Cummings completed 17 of 24 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns against UAB, but Maryland has had trouble recognizing and dealing with blitzes.

Special teams are another concern for coach Mark Duffner. The Cavaliers have some of the best in the nation. UAB blocked a Terps punt, and three of Maryland's six penalties came on punt returns.

Virginia, which shared the ACC title with Florida State last year, expects to play in its seventh bowl in eight seasons.

The conference had trouble filling its fourth bowl berth last year, but there appears to be no shortage of candidates after Saturday, a superb day for the ACC.

No. 12 North Carolina, which Maryland goes to Oct. 12, handled then-No. 9 Syracuse, and even lowly Wake Forest rose up and upset Northwestern, the defending Big Ten champion.

"It looks like everyone has gotten better," Duffner said.

He says the Terps are going to get better too.

Ratcliff Thomas, the Terps' leading tackler the last three seasons, was supposed to practice in pads today for the first time since Aug. 25, when he separated a shoulder. Even without Thomas, the defense has been impressive.

The offense, meanwhile, regains Mancel Johnson and his 81 career catches. One of the Terps' fastest receivers, Johnson was suspended for the first two games for on-campus thefts last winter.

Maryland also expects to get back defensive tackle Ramon Olivares, who sat out the UAB game with an ankle injury.

Pub Date: 9/09/96

Next for Terps

Opponent: Virginia

Site: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.

When: Saturday, noon Record: 1-0

Saturday: Beat Central Michigan, 55-21.

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