2-9 finish behind them, Terps look ahead Georgia Tech rolls, 37-18

Vanderlinden: 'I know exactly where we stand'

November 23, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Ron Vanderlinden wouldn't make any predictions, but LaMont Jordan did.

Vanderlinden learned a lot in his inaugural season as the football coach at Maryland, which ended with a 37-18 loss at Georgia Tech yesterday. A sixth straight defeat left the Terps with a 2-9 record, and Vanderlinden with a stark picture of the challenge he faces at College Park.

"I know exactly where we stand," Vanderlinden said. "We certainly need to be a lot more competitive. We were not a team that went toe to toe with half of the teams on our schedule. There's a lot of work to do, both in recruiting and in getting players to perform at the level they need to."

A young team might get even younger next season, but Vanderlinden is certain of one thing. He has a "big-time back" in Jordan, a freshman from Suitland in Prince George's County who said big things are in store for the Terps. Vanderlinden did the same when he was hired last December, but Maryland fell pitifully short of contending for a bowl.

"We have good coaches, and we have good players," Jordan said. "We will be good, we will go to a bowl game and we will be successful."

It was the third season in the past seven that the Terps finished 2-9, but the first since 1971 in which they failed to win at least two games in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A 1-7 record locked them into eighth place, ahead only of Duke.

Jordan finished his bid for ACC Rookie of the Year with a flourish, as he pounded out 97 yards on 25 carries. He completed the season with 689 yards, the second-best total by a Maryland back since 1985, and he would have had much more if his side hadn't spent the last two months playing catch-up.

It was the first collegiate season for Jordan, but the conclusion for quarterback Brian Cummings and 19 other seniors, who won only nine times since they started 4-0 as sophomores.

The Terps enjoyed seven minutes of their trip here, which began with a two-hour delay at BWI Friday night when a monsoon closed Hartsfield International Airport. Once at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field, they started strong, but wilted under the New South skyline.

When the Terps used a gamble and a gadget to go up 7-0, it marked only their second lead since their last win, Oct. 4 over Duke. Georgia Tech (6-4, 5-3) ignored the early deficit, put up touchdowns on its next three possessions, and its offense never stopped primping for 35,267 and scouts from three bowls in attendance.

Georgia Tech came in ranked last in the ACC in total defense and worried about its secondary, but the Yellow Jackets' problems in the backfield pale in comparison to Maryland's. Some feeble blitzes failed to pressure junior quarterback Joe Hamilton, who kept going to athletic receivers Harvey Middleton and Derrick Steagall.

Georgia Tech's second touchdown came on a 44-yard bomb to Steagall, and a replay set up their third. A 35-yard pass across the middle to Middleton ignited the fourth touchdown drive, and the fifth ended with him making a neat 21-yard catch on the right side.

Hamilton had only four incompletions in 21 attempts; passed for 265 yards and three touchdowns; and ran for another 83 yards, as Georgia Tech gained a season-high 501 yards.

Buddy Rodgers, who closed out his career with a start at fullback, had a hand in both Maryland touchdowns.

The Terps hadn't scored a touchdown here since 1991, but they ended that drought after linebacker Erwyn Lyght forced a fumble by Hamilton in the third minute. Maryland needed a 9-yard run from Jordan on fourth-and-two to keep the drive going, then caught Georgia Tech napping.

As Brian Kopka lined up for a field-goal attempt, the Yellow Jackets never saw Rodgers come off the bench. Holder Trey Evans found him for a 19-yard gain, and Jordan then scored on a 4-yard run. Cummings scrambled in the third quarter and passed to Rodgers for a 26-yard touchdown pass, but the Terps were not about to match Georgia Tech score for score.

"I know exactly what needs to be fixed," Vanderlinden said. "We're going to attack this problem very aggressively."

NOTES: Moises Cruz had four catches and a team-high 29 for the season, and it's the first time in Maryland history that the Terps' leaders in both receptions and rushing yardage were freshmen. Sophomore free safety Lewis Sanders left with a shoulder injury in the third quarter. For the season, Cummings completed 154 of 255 passes for 1,760 yards, all career highs. He stands fifth at Maryland in all three career categories. The Yellow Jackets lost three fumbles, but never punted.

First-year blues

Ron Vanderlinden's 2-9 record is the worst by a first-year Maryland coach in 30 years:

Coach .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Debut .. .. ..Rec.

Ron Vanderlinden .. .. .. .1997 .. .. ..2-9

Mark Duffner .. .. .. .. ..1992 .. .. ..3-8

Joe Krivak .. .. .. .. .. .1987 .. .. ..4-7

Bobby Ross .. .. .. .. .. .1982 .. .. ..8-4

Jerry Claiborne .. .. .. ..1972 .. ...5-5-1

Roy Lester .. .. .. .. .. .1969 .. .. ..3-7

Bob Ward .. .. .. .. .. ...1967 .. .. ..0-9

A step backward

Since 1993, when Maryland gave up 479 points and set an NCAA record for most yards allowed per game (553), the defense had improved each year until this one:

Year .. .. ..W-L .. .. ..PA .. .. ..Avg.

1993 .. .. ..2-9 .. .. .479 .. .. ..43.6

1994 .. .. ..4-7 .. .. .326 .. .. ..29.6

1995 .. .. ..6-5 .. .. .251 .. .. ..22.8

1996 .. .. ..5-6 .. .. .239 .. .. ..21.7

1997 .. .. ..2-9 .. .. .355 .. .. ..32.3 Pub Date: 11/23/97

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