If Terps run, even Gators can't throw from sideline

Orange Bowl

January 02, 2002|By Mike Preston

MIAMI -- In one corner, there is Steve Spurrier, creator of one of the most prolific passing games ever. In another is Ralph Friedgen, a firm believer in a balanced attack with a heavy emphasis on the running game. But tonight in the Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium, only one style will work well enough to win.

Will it come from the old guard in Spurrier, who has one of college football's most successful resumes in 12 seasons at the University of Florida, or from the new kid on the block, Friedgen, making his first major bowl appearance in his first year as a head coach?

Realistically, the Terps have little chance of winning if Florida brings its A game, even with Brock Berlin subbing for starting quarterback Rex Grossman, who is being benched for missing curfew. The Gators have too much speed, two NFL-bound receivers in Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell and a program superior to Maryland in overall talent and depth.

But if the Gators' minds are elsewhere -- say, like still in South Beach -- then the Terps have a shot as long as they can find a way to slow Florida's full-pressure, full-throttle passing game. Maryland hasn't seen a passing game like this since Florida State blew up the Terps for 363 passing yards in a 52-31 Seminoles win.

Maryland will try to slow the Gators with blitzes and mixed coverages, but the best way for the Terps to attack Florida's offense is with their own offense. Run tailbacks Bruce Perry and Marc Riley inside the tackles and pound away at the Gators. The Terps have to win the time-of-possession battle.

"Since no one has stopped them all year, that's a good question," Friedgen said when asked how he might halt Florida's offense. "You can pressure them, but that leaves you singled up with their wide receivers and that creates mismatches. If you double them, then Grossman has time to see, mix and match."

But not if he or Berlin isn't on the field.

A strong running game is the best strategy, and Friedgen has emphasized it since Day One. Look at the man. Big. Burly. He said yesterday Jackie Gleason would have been the ideal person to play him if a movie were being made about this season.

As a former Maryland offensive lineman, he would relish being able to knock Florida off the ball. Tennessee did it this season and rushed for 242 yards on 31 carries and a 34-32 win. Maryland has rushed for an average of 220.7 yards, 11th best in the nation.

Maryland's offensive line isn't as athletic or overpowering as Tennessee's, but these guys work well together. Ball control is their only chance. Florida is allowing 100.1 rushing yards per game.

The Terps can't survive a shootout with Florida. Not many teams can.

Spurrier's announcement that Grossman won't start shouldn't create a lot of false hopes about an ineffective Gators passing attack. Berlin has played in eight games, mostly in a cleanup capacity, but he has completed 36 of 60 passes for 483 yards and nine touchdowns.

Some people initially thought this was some type of motivational ploy by Spurrier, but it's not. Grossman has ticked Spurrier off.

"Their coaches [assistants] will play them accordingly," Spurrier said of the five players who were late for curfew. "This is not a situation where they missed for five or 10 minutes; it was a major breakdown. We're giving Brock the opportunity to play the game, and we're here to try to win. By that, I mean it's going to take a bunch of screw-ups before we take somebody out."

Friedgen isn't concerned one way or another.

"Steve Spurrier is a pretty up-front guy," Friedgen said. "He tells you what he feels, and takes care of his players. He speaks his mind, and I like people like that. But the Grossman situation won't affect us at all. We have no control over that, only what we do on the field. I've heard the other guy is just as good as Grossman, that his statistics are even better."

That's not true, but Berlin plays quarterback at Florida. That tells you something. Since 1990, Gators quarterbacks have registered 16 400-yard passing games. They have thrown for at least 25 touchdowns in each of the past 11 seasons, and earned All-America honors in six of those years, led by quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel.

If he is a quarterback in a Florida uniform, he's got game.

They also have receivers. Pro scouts are already drooling over Gaffney, a sophomore, and Caldwell, a junior. Gafffney has 67 catches for 1,191 yards, 13 touchdowns and an average of 17.8 yards per catch. Caldwell has 65 receptions for 1,059 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 16.3 average.

Maryland cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Curome Cox can't handle that type of speed. The Terps allowed 240.5 yards passing per game this season, No. 82 in the NCAA Division I rankings. Florida State receiver Talman Gardner had six receptions for 140 yards and three touchdowns against Maryland, and fellow wide-out Atrews Bell had four for 104 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown catch.

Florida's guys are better. The Gators will spread the field and use three- and four-receiver sets to negate Maryland middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, just like teams have been doing against the Ravens and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

Sooner or later, Florida will start hitting passes. Its offense is a machine, and it can't ever be totally shut down. There is only one way to neutralize it, and that's run the ball.

No offense can hurt you standing on the sideline.

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