UM out to leave Gators all wet

Soggy field at Pro Player could slow down Florida

Guard Wike may play

Orange Bowl : Maryland vs. Florida

January 01, 2002|By Christian Ewel | Christian Ewel,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Rain is usually gloomy news for South Florida visitors, but it provided a ray of hope for Maryland's chances against Florida in tomorrow's Orange Bowl.

The 10-1 Terrapins completed their final practice yesterday at Barry University under overcast skies and on a soggy field. Today, the team will conduct a walk-through at Pro Player Stadium.

A wet field could trim the disadvantage for Maryland, a 16-point underdog against a fast Florida team. "You might see me out there watering it," said Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen, who announced yesterday that left guard Todd Wike may play but won't start.

One of Florida's major attributes has been its team speed, particularly the wide receivers who have been a major reason for the team's 405 passing yards per game.

Though Maryland's use of its first-team players against one another has helped simulate some of Florida's speed, the thought is that sloppy conditions might slow down the 9-2 Gators, and take pressure off Maryland at some speed positions.

"If we could get it in the mud, it might help us. Unless they're mudders," Friedgen said. "That's why we practiced today. We have to be able to practice if it's wet out. My father used to say that water is the great equalizer. So we'll see."

However, slop wouldn't only hurt Florida. Terp defenders may lose footing while covering receivers. On offense, much of the team's renaissance has come with the blossoming of its option package, which rain tends to hinder for turnover-conscious teams like Maryland.

"I'd like to make sure we could keep the option game," Friedgen said. "So it works both ways."

Maryland ended its practices by carrying 18 seniors off the practice field, accounting for every player except for junior linebacker E.J. Henderson, who is expected to leave for the NFL after tomorrow night's game.

Friedgen said the gesture was a tradition he'd like to start with his Terrapin teams.

"I think they thought it was a little foolish," he said. "But it's something a little special to recognize their efforts and what they've put into the program for the last four years."

Maryland would like to be healthier, but strong safety Tony Jackson has apparently recovered from his ankle injury and will play, while Friedgen reiterated that cornerback Tony Okanlawon is ready to go after a 10-week layoff.

Wike participated in more of practice while still using the cast. Friedgen said he would see how things go at today's walk-through before making a final decision on his status, but said that he would definitely not start. Kyle Schmitt will fill in.

"Wike's a seasoned guy," Friedgen said. "Kyle's not a bad player, he's played some. He's just a young kid who's going to be a real good player."

Regardless of what happens against the Gators, the coach said he was glad for what the experience was able to do for the team, especially on offense where coordinator Charlie Taaffe said that only 35 percent of the plays had been installed this season.

Friedgen said the extra practices could benefit Maryland in the future, even if the 46-day layoff may hurt the team tomorrow night.

"It's been a very good period for us, in terms of our program," he said. "Hopefully, it will pay off in the bowl for us, but we've had really tough work and our kids are responding.

"I think we're ready. I can never get enough practices but it's now or never. We've improved. But my concern is that we haven't played."

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