At Ga. Tech, barometer rises for UM

October 01, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

ATLANTA -- On Tuesday, Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden expressed concern that his team couldn't play with No. 9 Georgia Tech, saying, "I'm not sure this will be a true barometer of our progress."

And minutes before last night's game, athletic director Debbie Yow expressed concern for redshirt freshman quarterback Calvin McCall, who was playing only the fourth game of his college career.

Those concerns were valid.

But Maryland -- scrappy, resourceful, thrill-a-minute Maryland -- presented a surprisingly appealing picture to restless alumni and curious recruits watching last night's 49-31 loss on ESPN.

The Terps might not be ready to compete with national powers, but no longer are they the pushovers that they were in Vanderlinden's first two seasons and under Mark Duffner and Joe Krivak before that.

Vanderlinden, though was in no mood to discuss the big picture after watching his team allow 587 yards of total offense. And the fact that he and his players were upset is a good sign for a program trying to overcome years of mediocrity.

"Last year, we were in games," Vanderlinden said. "It's time to win them now."

The Terps had a chance to win last night, with Vanderlinden pointing to a critical swing at the end of the first half, when a potential 24-14 lead turned into a 28-17 halftime deficit.

But let's face it, this was Georgia Tech.

Quarterback Joe Hamilton set a school record with 474 yards of total offense, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another against a defense that had allowed only 10 points in its first three victories.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that we would give up as many explosive plays," Vanderlinden said, referring to eight plays of 20 or more yards.

Well, the Yellow Jackets scored 35 points and produced 501 yards total offense in a Sept. 11 loss to No. 1 Florida State in Tallahassee. They've now won 13 of their past 15 games, with their only two losses coming to the Seminoles.

The Terps (3-1) offer a stunning contrast. They haven't produced more than six wins in a season since 1985. But they've already has matched their victory total from last season. And last night was a positive step when it could have been an outright embarrassment.

The 31 points were the most scored by Maryland at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Terps recorded four takeaways, gave Tech fits into the fourth quarter, played hard until the end.

Tailback LaMont Jordan rushed a career-high 27 times for 79 yards, produced a career-high 61 yards receiving and even threw a 60-yard touchdown pass.

McCall looked predictably inexperienced at times, and true freshman Latrez Harrison still might be the long-term answer at quarterback. But who can argue when McCall completed 15 of 30 passes for 221 yards, and didn't throw his first two interceptions of the season until the fourth quarter?

"I'm certainly going down there hoping we play well, but they're a legitimate Top 10 program," Vanderlinden said beforehand. "For us to say we're ready for that, that's hard to say."

The Terps weren't ready, but they kept coming, rebounding from two one-play touchdown drives by Tech to take a 17-14 lead late in the second quarter, then from a 28-17 halftime deficit to produce an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive at the start of the third quarter.

Hamilton threw for a school-record 257 yards against the nation's No. 1 scoring defense in the first half, including touchdown passes of 80, 29 and 30 yards. In one night, he jumped from eight to fourth place in ACC history in total offense, tying his career high by passing for 387 yards.

The first half, in particular, was a riot of action. Guilian Gary set up Maryland's first touchdown with an 84-yard kick return after Tech took a 7-0 lead. Lewis Sanders recorded his fourth interception -- and the first thrown by Hamilton this season -- with Tech ahead 14-7.

And that was only the start.

Sanders and Erwyn Light recovered fumbles for a Maryland team that entered last night No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin. Jordan rushed for two touchdowns. McCall settled down after failing to complete a pass or record a first down in his first three series.

Heck, the Terps even worked a gadget play to near-perfection, with wide receiver Doug Patterson taking a lateral from McCall and throwing a 28-yard completion to Jermaine Arrington.

"They kept us on their heels with their play calling," Georgia Tech linebacker Matt Uremovich.

It was breathtaking while it lasted.

But it didn't last.

Hamilton threw two touchdown passes in the final 1: 26 before halftime, giving Tech a 28-17 lead. And Hamilton ran for a 41-yard touchdown to push the lead back to 11 points after Maryland scored on the opening drive of the second half.

The Terps never got closer, but they could improve to 4-1 when they play at Wake Forest a week from tomorrow.

They were 2-9 and 3-8 in Vanderlinden's first two seasons, and still aren't close to fulfilling their coach's bold proclamation from his introductory news conference -- "Our standard for success will be the ACC championship."

Still, last night made it clear that those first three victories were not flukes. Last night made it clear that Vanderlinden's program finally might finally be working at Maryland.

"We just needed time to nurture it," Vanderlinden said Tuesday. "I don't think we're there yet. But we have a chance to have a decent year, maybe a breakthrough year. And I expect us to be better the next year and the year after."

They're getting there.

Even after giving up 49 points, they're getting there.

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