Vanderlinden gives Terps change Dividends to be reaped starting tonight vs. Ohio

September 06, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It has been seven years since Maryland went to a bowl game, and 38 seasons since a coach won his college football debut with the Terps.

Ron Vanderlinden can end the longer drought tonight, beginning at 6 o'clock, when Maryland meets Ohio at Byrd Stadium. But the answer to the bowl quest is months off. The Terps have been trained by a different staff, they've got a different offense and they'll even wear different uniforms.

Is the result going to be any different?

Maryland's long-suffering fans, whose only bowl experience since 1985 was the 1990 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., appear skeptical. The Terps have a considerably more intriguing home schedule than they did a year ago, but they're just now closing in on last year's total of season-ticket holders, approximately 16,000.

A crowd of 30,000 is anticipated.

Vanderlinden has repeatedly said that he'll be disappointed if the Terps don't go to a bowl game this season, but there are several factors in their way.

Maryland is picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which offers only four guaranteed bowl berths. Nearly half of the regulars on offense have never played a down of offense in college.

Vanderlinden, 41, was hired on the basis of his involvement in turnarounds at Colorado and Northwestern, but the Wildcats won eight games in his first three seasons as Gary Barnett's assistant head coach, and it took the Buffaloes just as long to reverse direction under Bill McCartney, Vanderlinden's mentor since his high school days in the Detroit suburbs.

Won't Vanderlinden also have to wait that long for some head coaching success?

"Here's what's different about Maryland," said Craig Johnson, the offensive coordinator who followed Vanderlinden from Northwestern. "At Colorado and Northwestern, both of those programs we're tremendously down. When we got to Northwestern, we had to fight and claw and scratch just to be average.

"Here, we came into a program that's been just a little less than average, and our expectations are to take it to the top."

Maryland was a model of mediocrity the past two years, when it was a combined 11-11, but Vanderlinden said there was plenty to build on.

For all of the question marks about the Terps' new multiple offense, which will have converted linebacker Pete Timmins starting at H-back, the defense is buoyed by an experienced front seven, a group which over the past two years has played well enough to win against every ACC opponent with the exception of Florida State.

The Terps had admittedly underachieved the past two years, and with few exceptions they've bought into Vanderlinden's prodding that they haven't done enough.

Tailback Buddy Rodgers, hampered by weight problems in previous seasons, has shed 15 pounds. The captains, quarterback Brian Cummings, and defensive ends Eric Hicks and Eric Ogbogu, told their teammates to be more business-like, and forget about going out on weeknights.

Despite the presence of the veterans, Vanderlinden hardly will be Maryland's only rookie tonight.

For every fifth-year senior like Cummings, there's a redshirt freshman like center Ben Thomas, who must learn on the job. For every savvy fourth-year senior like Rodgers or Hicks, there is a first-year freshman, like starting flanker Doug Patterson or punt returner Tony Jackson, who figures in Vanderlinden's plans.

"It's more freshmen than I anticipated playing," Vanderlinden said. "Philosophically, you would rather use a player a game late in his career than a game early, but if you need them to play, you need them to play."

As he prepared to try and become the first coach to win his debut with the Terps since Tom Nugent in 1959, Vanderlinden bristled at any suggestion that an opponent from the Mid-American Conference was a tuneup. No one has mentioned next week's ACC opener at Florida State, the program Vanderlinden targeted when he was hired last December.

"I've been talking for nine months about what we're going to do," Vanderlinden said. "Now it's time to back it up."

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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