Terps facing a battle of emotion

51,000 in stands may make it tough to focus vs. Clemson

College Football

November 10, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The hallmark of Maryland's dream season has been the sober manner in which it has played, a big reason for the lack of mistakes that has led to an 8-1 record and a No. 13 national ranking.

That quality will come under fire tonight as 51,000 are expected at Byrd Stadium for the game with Clemson that will start at 7, the last home appearance for 19 Terrapins seniors.

The challenge for those Maryland players is to walk out onto the field with their parents, take in the stadium's largest crowd in 18 years, hear the cheers and keep their cool.

Even in pursuit of the school's fourth 10-win season, the senior Terps said it would be difficult to totally focus on the task at hand - winning.

"My mind's going to be on the game, but I know that I'm not going to be able to ignore everything that's going on around me," senior linebacker Aaron Thompson said. "Just the thought of playing my last game in Byrd gives me a funny little tingle in my throat."

"That can get to anybody," senior strong safety Tony Jackson said of the anticipated crowd, "knowing that you're going to have that support."

This will not be the first game of note for Maryland this season. On Oct. 11, the Terps traveled to Georgia Tech and came away with a 20-17 overtime victory. Two weeks later, they went to Florida State and lost, 52-31.

However, with an Atlantic Coast Conference title still within reach, Maryland (5-1 ACC) is getting its first big game at home, while league co-leader Florida State plays host to North Carolina State this afternoon. Maryland will close with N.C. State; Florida State still must play Florida and Georgia Tech.

Because of the title ramifications, because of the possibility of seeing the Terps beat Clemson (5-3, 3-3) for the first time since 1992 and the curiosity of seeing Tigers quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, Maryland officials added 3,000 seats to Byrd Stadium's normal 48,055.

The last time 51,000 saw a game at Byrd, No. 13 Maryland defeated third-ranked North Carolina, 28-26, on Oct. 29, 1983. After weeks of seeing empty seats at home games (despite an overall increase in attendance), Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said, "I'm just excited that we're finally going to get the electricity back in this place."

On paper, tonight's matchup doesn't suggest a lot of drama. The Terps are seven-point favorites over a Clemson team with only modest results to show for a season that began with ambitious plans.

But so much emotion lies beneath, not only for Maryland, but for Clemson, which has its pride on the line. It had been expected - like N.C. State - to be a dark-horse contender for the conference title, but has never been able to get up a full head of steam.

The Tigers started 2-0, but were then upset at home by Virginia. Two more wins were followed by another home loss, 38-3, to North Carolina. Their final home loss came last week, to Florida State, 41-27.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said the season - marred by injuries on both sides of the ball, but especially defense - isn't what he envisioned, but he said it could be worse.

"I'm more inclined to look at the big picture," he said. "For me to panic on being five and three, I'd be crazy to jump ship. If you can't handle that, you're in a heap of trouble."

The Tigers bring the challenge of stopping the Tigers' quarterback, Dantzler, a run-pass threat who had 517 yards of total offense against N.C. State and 418 against Georgia Tech.

Maryland's defense will try not to focus on Dantzler to the exclusion of the star's teammates.

"Because to think we can totally shut him out is ludicrous," Terps defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said. "Most people have not been able to do that."

Terps today

Opponent: Clemson

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM), WTEM (980 AM)

Line: Terps by 7

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