Overlooked Underwood snaps to the forefront New York native picks up for injured Rodgers, Boone'

Maryland notebook

College Football

September 30, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Brian Underwood is Maryland's starting tailback, and he's coming off a 114-yard game.

Not bad for a guy who was an afterthought when the season began.

Terps talk about an improved running game is an August tradition, and the focus this year centered upon Buddy Rodgers, whose image was plastered across billboards in an advertising campaign two years ago. Rodgers and Damone Boone were Parade All-Americans in high school, and Boone and LaMont Jordan have the local-boy-makes-good angle in their favor.

Finally, the speculation got around to Underwood, a senior from New York who said he isn't tired of being overlooked, though he led Maryland in rushing last season and has picked up considerable slack since the oft-injured Rodgers and Boone winced away from the Florida State loss Sept. 13.

"On more than one occasion the last two weeks, he's taken practically every snap in practice," coach Ron Vanderlinden said. "I'm happy for Brian. We needed him to step up."

Underwood gained those 114 yards, a career high, in last week's 24-21 win over Temple, but his performance was eclipsed by Jordan, the Suitland High product who set a Maryland freshman rushing record with 135 yards. The first question he was asked yesterday was about Jordan, but Underwood said he didn't mind.

"Everyone who's getting attention deserves it," said the soft-spoken Underwood, who previously had come closest to 100 yards in the 1995 opener against Tulane, when he gained 92. "I've been waiting for this my whole career. That was special to me."

Jordan looks better each week, and Rodgers is expected back in the mix for Saturday's (6 p.m.) Atlantic Coast Conference game against Duke at Byrd Stadium. Before offensive coordinator Craig Johnson decides how to divide the workload, he must determine who will start against the Blue Devils.

"It's going to be hard for Brian Underwood not to start," Vanderlinden said. "The best-case scenario is that all three are healthy, and that we play all three."

Negativity

Maryland attempted 11 passes against Temple, the fewest by the Terps since 1970, when they put the ball up six times against N.C. State. The Jordan-Underwood tandem was one reason Maryland stayed on the ground, but the team's inability to protect quarterback Brian Cummings was also a factor.

The Terps gained 285 yards rushing, but lost 97, primarily through seven sacks of Cummings, who has dropped back and been dumped 22 times in four games. The running game also stumbled early, as both Jordan and Underwood lost yardage on their first carries.

"A big part of what we have to do the next couple of weeks is eliminate the negative yardage," said Vanderlinden, who spread around the blame. "Sometimes there's a protection problem, sometimes the concept is not good, sometimes the quarterback is looking to the wrong side."

Sanders catches on

Before the Temple game, Lewis Sanders had played 14 college games without an interception, but he made up for lost time with Maryland's first three-interception game in 15 years.

The last Terp with three in a game was Lendell Jones, who set a school record with four against Duke in 1982. Sanders had three nice returns totaling 99 yards, the second-most in school history.

The sophomore from Staten Island, N.Y., also came up with a fourth-down stop on the Terps' 4-yard line in the second quarter that Vanderlinden said "was as big a play as there was in the game."

Sanders was named ECAC Division I-A Defensive Player of the Week.

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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