Primarily, Terps have a secondary problem

September 01, 2002|By MIKE KANE

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The last time the University of Maryland had played a football game, Steve Spurrier and the Florida receivers blew past the Terps in the 2002 Orange Bowl.

Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham apparently watched the game film.

The Fighting Irish don't have as sophisticated a passing scheme, but Maryland's cornerbacks couldn't cover these guys, either, as Notre Dame defeated Maryland, 22-0, last night before 72,903 in the season opener for both teams at Giants Stadium.

If the Terps are to have any consistency on defense, they're going to have get some big plays out of cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Curome Cox and safeties Madieu Williams and Dennard Wilson.

The Terps have a lot of problems. They're looking for the right combination on the offensive line, a starting running back and a quarterback.

But they've got some problems at the back end of their defense, as well. Notre Dame didn't run much complex stuff. We're not talking about Air Coryell or the St. Louis Rams. We're not talking about the West Coast offense, either. The Terps were taken out by the simplest of routes: slants and quick screens.

"They did a lot of three-step dropbacks, used the quick screens and a lot of slant-ins," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "Their quarterback got the ball out of there before the pressure. We didn't win a lot of one-on-one battles. They won a lot of them."

Notre Dame had 187 yards of total offense in the first half, 150 passing in building a 9-0 lead at halftime. The Fighting Irish controlled the ball for 19 minutes and 47 seconds in the half, and could have led by more, but were hurt by penalties.

They finished with 226 passing yards, as receivers Omar Jenkins and Arnaz Battle combined for nine catches and 155 yards.

Maryland had chances to slow Notre Dame down, but the Terps' cornerbacks couldn't make the interceptions even when they were in great position to make plays. This isn't anything new. The secondary was the Achilles' heel of the defense last year.

A year should have made some difference, but it didn't show last night. The Terps are still going through growing pains under second-year coach Friedgen, and it could be another year before they mature.

Notre Dame set the tone early. Battle took a quick screen over the middle for a 29-yard gain down to the Maryland 38 on the Fighting Irish's second possession of the game. A play later, Jenkins ran a slant-in for 12 more yards, which eventually set up a 51-yard field goal by Nicholas Setta for a 3-0 lead with 5:01 left in the first quarter.

The Terps will be seeing slant-ins in their sleep. Battle ran another one for 16 yards late in the first quarter to set up another Setta field goal, this one of 32 yards with 13:27 left in the half.

But Notre Dame didn't pick on just the Maryland corners. The Fighting Irish occasionally got Battle matched up with Maryland middle linebacker E.J. Henderson.

Henderson is a great player, but he doesn't have that kind of speed. It was no contest.

But Notre Dame's success wasn't based on positional mismatches. Foxworth had his hands on a Carlyle Holiday pass in the Terps' end zone late in the first quarter, and didn't hold on.

Wilson had his hands on another Holiday pass intended for Carlos Campbell early in the second half, but guess what?

Yep, he dropped it, too.

But the two most embarrassing plays by the cornerbacks came on Notre Dame's last drive of the first half, which ended on a Setta 18-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the half.

On first-and-10 from the Notre Dame 38, Battle caught a short hitch pass. Foxworth came up in great position, only to see Battle throw him to the ground with one arm.

Not good. A catch that should have been for no gain turned into an 8-yard gain.

Then, about two minutes later, Maryland had stopped running back Ryan Grant 1 yard short of a first down at the Fighting Irish 47 on a short pass over the middle, but Williams was flagged for a 15-yard penalty on an obvious late hit. Setta eventually converted a field goal.

Even when Maryland had Notre Dame receivers covered, Holiday caused problems by escaping pressure, moving around in the pocket and then connecting with receivers.

By midway through the third quarter, Notre Dame had pretty much run Maryland's cornerbacks into the ground. Holiday lofted a 38-yard pass to Omar Jenkins down to the Terps' 10 late in the third quarter as Williams was slow providing help. It was that kind of night.

Maryland will get a week to work on its problems. The Terps have Akron next week before Florida State comes to College Park. By then, they will have corrected a few problems or they'll be watching another track meet at Byrd Stadium.

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