Vanderlinden era opens with a thud Ohio rallies to stun Terps, new coach, 21-14

September 07, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Ron Vanderlinden said beforehand that he would be happy to come away with a one-point win in his first game as Maryland's football coach.

Terps fans would have settled for that, too.

The Vanderlinden era opened disastrously last night before 30,100 at Byrd Stadium, where Maryland was unceremoniously dumped by Ohio, 21-14. The Terps played to near perfection for 17 minutes, then blew a 14-0 lead, thanks to breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams.

L It was a team effort, and the guy at the top took the blame.

"Ohio is a good team, but we should have won this game," said Vanderlinden, who was hired last December after the firing of Mark Duffner. "I apologize for not having our team better prepared."

The Terps rolled into the second quarter, their new multiple offense clicking on whatever play was sent in to quarterback Brian Cummings, and a veteran defense stuffed the Bobcats' triple option.

One minute, the Terps were thinking about how they would use second-team quarterback Ken Mastrole in the second half. The next, they were fighting for their major-conference lives, and failing.

This was not Ohio State, it was Ohio of the Mid-American Conference, a league that routinely supplies the Atlantic Coast Conference with early-season fodder. The Bobcats may end up being the class of the MAC, but they still might be the weakest team the Terps face this season.

Next up for Maryland is a game at No. 5 Florida State. Then it's a return home against No. 7 North Carolina, which some people believe can unseat the Seminoles in the ACC.

Hello, 0-3.

"We're embarrassed," Cummings said. "This feels bad. We'll come out and practice harder. We have to."

Vanderlinden was worried that Ohio (2-0) already had a game under its belt, but the Terps were clearly the smoother team through each team's first two possessions, when Maryland had touchdown drives of 77 and 55 yards and the Bobcats had one first down.

Then it all unraveled.

Vanderlinden promised solid special teams play, but Ohio got a 14-14 tie three minutes into the second half thanks to a block of Sean Starner's first collegiate punt, and remained there when junior Brad Rhodes' shanked a 23-yard field-goal try off the left upright with 5: 34 left in the third quarter.

Ohio fumbled two plays later and Maryland was in prime position again, but that drive ended when Cummings was intercepted in the end zone by Mark Stubbs with 3: 55 left in the third quarter.

The Terps got the ball back only twice, as junior quarterback Kareem Wilson and the Bobcats' unorthodox inverted wishbone played keep-away. Ohio got the winning touchdown on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that concluded with halfback John Cosgrove taking a pitch on the right for a 5-yard touchdown with 12: 04 remaining.

The Terps opened with two efficient touchdown drives. Senior tailback Buddy Rodgers carried the load on a 16-play, 77-yard smash-mouth specialty. Just to show the Terps could strike quickly, Cummings capped a quick 55-yard drive with a 35-yard pass to redshirt freshman Moises Cruz off play-action.

The lead was ready to grow when Lewis Sanders forced Riz Buckman to fumble and end Eric Ogbogu recovered and returned it to the Terps' 49. But Maryland went three plays and out.

"That's when you've got to put the knife in and jump up 21-0," Vanderlinden said. "The fact that we didn't was bad, but then we let them drive 99 yards. You're not going to score on every possession, but to allow them to drive 99 yards, obviously, we can't have that."

Actually, it was a 95-yard drive after Russ Edwards' coffin-corner punt. Wilson, under wraps on his first three possessions, was sharp on that drive, which was aided by the momentary absence of middle linebacker Eric Barton, who went out with a mild sprain. The possession ended on a sneak by Wilson with 2: 48 left in the first half.

"That drive was definitely a momentum change for us," Ohio coach Jim Grobe said. "Up until that point, our offense was struggling to move the ball, but that one sustained drive gave our offense the confidence it needed."

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, the Bobcats' Tevell Jones broke through and blocked Starner's punt. Ohio took over on the Terps' 2, got the tying touchdown three plays later, and its vision of an upset was soon a reality.

There were more special teams miscues to come, more offensive indecision and more of the defense getting blown off the ball by what was supposed to be an inexperienced Ohio offensive line. There were also boos, from Maryland fans who had seen it before.

"I'm disappointed for Maryland more than for me," Vanderlinden said. "I'm disappointed for our players, but we have to win these kinds of games."

Tripping on 1st step

The last Maryland football coach to win his first game with the Terrapins was Tom Nugent, whose team beat West Virginia, 27-7, in 1959. A look at how the Maryland coaches since then have fared in their first games:

Yr Coach, Loss/tie

'66 Lou Saban, Penn St., 15-7

'67 Bob Ward, Oklahoma, 35-0

'69 Roy Lester, West Va., 31-7

'72 Jerry Claiborne, N.C. St., 24-24

'82 Bobby Ross, Penn St., 39-31

'87 Joe Krivak, Syracuse, 25-11

'92 Mark Duffner, Virginia, 28-15

'97 R. Vanderlinden, Ohio, 21-14

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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