Young offense takes aim at Clemson Maryland hasn't scored TD against Clemson since 1992

Terps notebook

October 21, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The best thing about the youth on Maryland's offense is that none of the rookies have bad memories of Clemson.

In their first season under Ron Vanderlinden, the Terps have started as many as five freshmen on offense. That inexperience, a new multiple system and September dates with No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 North Carolina resulted in some early statistical disasters, but Maryland has found an offensive rhythm.

The Terps' total yardage has increased in each of their past five games. Now they get a chance to erase four years of frustration against the Tigers, their homecoming opponent at Byrd Stadium on Saturday (3: 30 p.m., Ch. 2).

Clemson (3-3, 1-3) is in an uninspired sixth-place tie in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Maryland (2-5, 1-3), but its defenders are motivated by the fact that they don't want to be the ones to allow the Terps a touchdown. Maryland last visited the Tigers' end zone in 1992. After three shutouts, the Terps at least scored in last year's 35-3 loss at Death Valley.

"Credit Clemson," senior back Buddy Rodgers said. "The only thing we can do is play like we have the last couple of weeks. We've shown we can move the ball on anyone. We've shown we can score points on anyone."

What the offense needs is some consistency. It looks sharp for flashes, but it still isn't finishing enough plays. That was a recurrent theme during a half-hour video session Vanderlinden conducted for the media yesterday, when he kept going back to blocks -- by receivers, backs and linemen -- that must be held longer.

"We've improved; we're making plays that we weren't a month ago," said Vanderlinden, who winced over a decent gain that ended when a block wasn't sustained. "Right now, it isn't important to every guy for 60 minutes. That [play] has nothing to do with ability. That's effort.

"We're not that far away from where we want to be, just a play here or a play there. Some of it is bad luck, but most of it is our doing."

Maryland gained 367 yards in last Saturday's 35-14 loss at Wake Forest, the most allowed by the Demon Deacons this year. The Terps were shut out in the second half -- they've scored just 27 points all season after the break -- but quarterback Brian Cummings appears more comfortable in offensive coordinator Craig Johnson's system.

Another plus has been Rodgers' attitude since his return from a rib injury. He was the No. 1 tailback when he was knocked out of the Florida State game, and he didn't pout when freshman LaMont Jordan flourished in his absence. Jordan starts and Rodgers spells him, but the senior also has lined up as a fullback in the I-formation.

Maryland has prospered the past two weeks with Jordan and Rodgers in a split backfield.

Cummings While the offense has gotten better, Maryland's defense was unable to carry any momentum out of the modest two-game win streak over Temple and Duke. That unit faced Wake Forest without end Eric Ogbogu, its best defensive lineman, and free safety Lewis Sanders, its steadiest player in the secondary.

Injuries to Ogbogu (sprained ankle) and Sanders (groin pull) could heal in time for Clemson.

Both Maryland units have been deficient in the same phase of the game, as the defense has been unable to pressure the opposing quarterback and the offense hasn't given Cummings sufficient protection. The Terps have registered just nine sacks and have surrendered 35.

BC climbs charts

Cummings was dropped seven times by Wake Forest, and that number would have doubled if he weren't among the most mobile quarterbacks in the ACC. He fled the pocket repeatedly, and kept dumping off short passes to Rodgers and Jordan.

If Cummings can avoid the injuries that limited him in each of the last two seasons, he'll finish in the top five at Maryland in career completions (he's got 291), attempts (499) and yardage (3,467). In each category, the top five are Scott Milanovich, Boomer Esiason, Neil O'Donnell, Dan Henning and John Kaleo.

Miscellaneous

Coming off a bye, Clemson has only two wins against major-college competition, the same as Maryland. The Tigers beat Division I-AA Appalachian State in their opener. Freshmen have done all of the scoring in two of Maryland's past three games. Tony Jackson, the freshman punt returner out of Wilde Lake, has had fluid drained from a knee before each of the past two games. Wide receiver Bruce James (broken wrist) hasn't been ruled out of the Clemson game, but he'll most likely return for Virginia Nov. 1. Like Ogbogu and Sanders, the availability of strong safety Henry Baker (neck sprain) is reviewed daily. Sophomore tailback Damone Boone, out most of the year with a pulled hamstring, may qualify for a medical redshirt.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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