Maryland's next step needs to be a swift one

January 03, 2002|By Mike Preston

MIAMI - As the points continued to mount last night, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen could only dream about one day having a program like Florida's. But before the Terps can become a power and a key player in the national rankings, they are going to need an upgrade in their speed and finding impact players, especially at quarterback.

The Terps, routed by Florida, 56-23, last night in the Orange Bowl, have all the other building blocks. They have Friedgen, a Maryland alum who bleeds red and white and has one of the best offensive minds in the game. They have a great weight-training program and one of the nation's best coaching staffs, including defensive coordinator Gary Blackney and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe.

As long as Friedgen remains at Maryland, the Terps will be extremely competitive in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but until they get impact players at the skill positions, they'll always have problems with the three big boys in Florida: Florida State, Miami and the Gators.

The last time Maryland was a national power, it had quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Stan Gelbaugh and Frank Reich. Friedgen has gotten the most out of senior quarterback Shaun Hill this season, but he isn't a prime-time player when the opponent is Florida.

"That's what I'm hoping to get at Maryland," said Friedgen of Florida's program. "That's a credit to Coach [Steve] Spurrier, his staff and the recruiting that they've done. Eleven years of winning nine games or more is a pretty good stat. But they are not only swell coaches, but got a lot of guys who make plays offensively and defensively. You talk about offensive tackles, all of theirs are about 6-8 and 340 pounds. That's the kind of guys we need to start getting at Maryland.

"They've got some great athletes," said Friedgen. "I was in the NFL for five years, and the only team that was better-looking was the Oakland Raiders. They've got great team speed and an overall great offensive unit. Our offense tried to hang in and battle the whole way, but they just have more players."

Just look at the difference Gators quarterback Rex Grossman made last night. Maryland played with Florida for a little more than a quarter while Grossman was on the bench for violating the team's curfew. But once he entered the game, Florida scored on its next six possessions to turn a tight game into a rout.

Florida has had great success with quarterbacks during the 11 years Spurrier has been the head coach at the school. Maryland hasn't had a pro prospect at the position since Scott Milanovich left in 1995. Meanwhile, Spurrier has had Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel and Doug Johnson.

Grossman is a combination of all three. He has the instincts of Wuerffel, the arm and arrogance of Johnson and the guts and grit of Matthews.

When Grossman entered with 6:03 left in the half, Florida was ahead 14-10, but struggling. But Grossman proceeded to do what replacement Brock Berlin couldn't do. Instead of playing the long ball, he picked apart Maryland with short passes. Eight yards to running back Robert Gillespie. Three yards to Gillespie. Thirteen more yards to Gillespie. Ten to fullback Robert Roberts. Eleven to tight end Ben Troupe. A 15-yard reception to wide receiver Taylor Jacobs on the post pattern. Touchdown.

If Friedgen made one huge mistake last night, he tried to work a two-minute drill from the Maryland 20 with 2:09 left in the half instead of running out the clock. Maryland managed only 21 yards in five plays, and took only 45 seconds off the clock.

It was Grossman time again.

In six plays, including receptions of 21, 14 and 16 yards, Grossman had Florida in the end zone again, as receiver Jabar Gaffney beat cornerback Curome Cox across the middle. In Grossman's first five series, Florida scored on drives of 72, 64, 65, 74 and 68 within 19 minutes.

No offense to Maryland or Hill, but the Terps don't have a quarterback in their program of this caliber. Hill was a long shot to make the team. Grossman, a sophomore, was the Heisman runner-up.

The Terps don't have receivers like Florida's, either. Receivers Jacobs (10 catches), Gaffney (seven) and Reche Caldwell (four) ran a track meet on Maryland as Florida finished with 456 passing yards. The Gators ran Maryland out of the stadium. That was evident on Florida's first series when Maryland cornerback Dennard Wilson was in position to break up a long pass, but watched as Jacobs blew by him for a 34-yard reception that led to a 1-yard touchdown run.

Florida made it 14-0 when Jacobs waved bye-bye to Maryland's best cover cornerback, Tony Okanlawon, for a 46-yard touchdown reception. That's the way Florida plays. The Gators have an abundance of speedy wide receivers, they spread the field and create mismatches. It's Grossman's job to find the right receiver.

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