COLLEGE PARK -- Look on the bright side. The Eight-Day Grind ended with Maryland's ego, and Brian Cummings' body, intact.
Cummings is the senior quarterback on a Maryland football team that is as upbeat as it can get with an 0-3 record. Yesterday, the Terps concluded the toughest two-game stretch that they've faced in 14 seasons, and a 40-14 Atlantic Coast Conference whipping by No. 6 North Carolina did nothing to stem the boasts of a bright future from first-year coach Ron Vanderlinden.
"My goal at the outset of the season was to win enough games to qualify for a bowl," he said, alluding to the NCAA's six-win minimum. "I stand by that. This team is capable of significant things."
A week after a 50-7 loss at No. 5 Florida State, Maryland was in position early to post a monumental upset before 30,084 at Byrd Stadium, but the Terps crumbled under the weight of their mistakes and the Tar Heels' superior talent.
For all of its talk, Maryland isn't going to beat any team if it continues to blunder its way through a game. In the season opener against Ohio, it was two devastating breakdowns on special teams. Yesterday, it was its inability to protect the ball, as North Carolina turned three Terps fumbles into two touchdowns and a field goal.
In addition, one of North Carolina's eight sacks of Cummings resulted in a safety.
"We gave them 16 points," Vanderlinden said. "You can't do that against a good team. You can't do that against anyone anymore. I keep talking about lining up and playing the team across from us instead of ourselves, but we self-destructed."
In the next four weeks, when the Terps (0-3, 0-2) go to Temple and Wake Forest and get Duke and West Virginia here, they won't have to play mistake-free. That was not the situation yesterday, as North Carolina's he-man defense, which will lead its challenge to Florida State in the ACC, outscored the Terps' offense, 9-7.
It was a perfect time to play the Tar Heels, who were coming off an emotional, nationally televised win over then-No. 17 Stanford and looking ahead to a revenge game against Virginia, which knocked them out of consideration for an Alliance bowl berth last year.
North Carolina (3-0, 1-0) looked uninterested early, but the Tar Heels have comebacks down pat after falling behind in their first two games. Coach Mack Brown, who has a brewing controversy his hands, gave junior Oscar Davenport the start over All-ACC quarterback Chris Keldorf, who also played early, when the Terps outplayed them.
Maryland stung the Tar Heels with a neat 12-play, 86-yard drive that carried from the first to the second quarters. Cummings' 3-yard option run scored the touchdown. He followed with a primal scream. But then came the fumbles and 33 unanswered North Carolina points.
Fumble one: Freshman LaMont Jordan lost control at the Terps' 26-yard line with 9: 16 left in the second quarter. Five plays later, Davenport's 14-yard pass to Na Brown made it 7-7.
Fumble two: Brian Underwood lost a handoff from Cummings on the first play of the second half. Field goal North Carolina, and a 17-7 spread.
Fumble three: Cummings was sacked and stripped of the ball by Ebenezer Ekuban of Riverdale, Md., with 3: 41 left. Freshman end Stephon McQueen scooped the ball and scored his first career points, and the last of the day.
The Terps didn't play a decent quarter at Florida State, looked good for one quarter against Ohio and yesterday hung tough for a half. After 37 minutes, they barely trailed in yards gained, 186-183, but then North Carolina put on a clinic in how to put away a game.
Working with bad field position for the first time, the Tar Heels moved 94 yards to a touchdown and a 24-7 lead on three Davenport passes. After two Terps stops, Keldorf directed an 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Lewis Sanders returned the next kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, but even that score brought up a disturbing note. The offense still hasn't produced a second-half touchdown since last Oct. 19, when a Buddy Rodgers run clinched the Terps' win at Duke.
Maryland's offense hasn't gotten in the end zone after the break in its past six games. But at least Cummings, who missed three starts last year with injuries and was sacked eight times yesterday, is healthy. His wide receivers were a factor, as they had 10 catches. With Rodgers out because of an injury, Underwood ran for 63 yards.
The Terps' defense held on UNC's first five possessions.
It wasn't nearly enough to stop Maryland's 25th straight loss to a ranked team and extend its worst start since 1993, but the Terps also know they just endured an eight-day stretch that few teams in the nation will face this year.
"Losses are never good," Cummings said, "but no one was hanging their head in the locker room."
Next for Maryland
Site: Franklin Field, Philadelphia
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Yesterday: Lost to No. 14 Virginia Tech, 23-13
Maryland opponents have harassed Terps quarterbacks in the past six blowout losses.
Yr. Opp., Sacks lost, Result
'97 N. Carolina, 8-(-53), L 40-14
'97 at Fla. St., 5-(-38), L 50-7
'96 Fla. St.*, 6-(-63), L 48-10
'96 at Clemson, 8-(-66), L 35-3
'96 at UNC, 4-(-24), L 38-7
'96 N.C. State, 5-(-47), L 34-8
* -- at Pro Player Stadium, South Florida
Pub Date: 9/21/97