Maryland seeks a mountain of an upset As usual, Terps are pumped for West Va.

October 11, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- West Virginia is ranked in one of the national polls, has the land's No. 2 rusher and is a 9 1/2 -point favorite to sour Maryland's perspective toward this afternoon's (1 p.m) nonconference football game at Byrd Stadium.

So why do the Terps -- at least on defense -- like facing the Mountaineers?

Maryland (2-3) has a first-year coach and a new secondary, but there are enough veterans up front who have memories of sticking it to, not just sticking with, the Mountaineers. Ron Vanderlinden was hired to erase the mistakes of the previous regime, but Mark Duffner's teams were always up for the Mountaineers (4-1).

"We have tremendous respect for West Virginia," junior linebacker Kendall Ogle said, "but at the same time, we have a good feeling about playing them."

Remember the joke that Maryland's defense had become in 1993, when the Terps set an NCAA record for yards allowed? Its turnaround started in Morgantown in 1994, when Maryland finally began to hit back and limited the Mountaineers to 331 yards in an upset win.

When the Terps won, 31-17, here two years ago, West Virginia gained just 211 yards. The Mountaineers answered with a shutout in Morgantown last year, but it wasn't the fault of the defense, which allowed only 250 yards.

That was with four senior starters in the secondary. The Terps' quartet of free safety Lewis Sanders, strong safety Henry Baker and cornerbacks Troy Davidson and Lynde Washington has looked more assured during Maryland's modest two-game win streak, but they're still toddlers in defensive coordinator Wally Ake's eyes.

"The guys who have played against West Virginia aren't going to be awed by them," Ake said. "But our liabilities are still the same, and our assets are still the same."

The West Virginia passing game has picked up behind first-year quarterback Marc Bulger, but the star remains sophomore tailback Amos Zereoue. The Mountaineers are 8-0 when he gains 100 yards or more, and his 42-yard run on a third-and-41 situation set up the only touchdown in last year's game.

"We aren't going to freeze up against a good tailback, because we face them week in and week out," said Ogle, who had a career-high 15 tackles against Duke last week, bettering the 14 he had against the Mountaineers last year. "[Zereoue] has done a good job, but he has to prove himself against us. We feel our defense is a little better than what he's been facing."

Comparative score alert: In week two, Temple beat Boston College. In week three, Boston College beat West Virginia. In week four, Maryland beat Temple.

As solid as the Terps have been against the Mountaineers' defensively, the offense has been that limp. Maryland mustered only 62 yards and never crossed midfield in Morgantown last year, as quarterback Brian Cummings threw a career-high four interceptions with a separated shoulder that hadn't completely healed.

"Our offense didn't do diddly against them last year," said Cummings, who last week sprained a joint in the same shoulder.

Cummings has had to adapt to a new offense and freshman starters at center, split end, flankerback, H-back and -- if LaMont Jordan starts today -- at tailback. The transition was painfully evident in a season-opening loss to Ohio, which rapidly deflated Maryland's bowl aspirations.

Given the sorry state of affairs in the Big East, West Virginia could lose its next two games, against Virginia Tech and Syracuse, and still play in a bowl for the fourth time in five seasons. Maryland, meanwhile, faces another must-win situation as it tries to continue to climb out of its 0-3 start.

"You talk about rivalries at Maryland, you talk about Virginia, and then West Virginia," Cummings said. "It's the ACC against the Big East, and there are a lot of implications. It's been the same thing the last couple of years. We're both always jockeying for position to go to a bowl game, but they've made it and we haven't."

Pub Date: 10/11/97

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