UM downplays FSU air game

Secondary has struggled with Seminoles, but Terps say it's just another game

College Football

September 12, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Fifth-ranked Florida State is just another foe - at least Maryland defensive backs said as much earlier this week.

Each ho-hummed the Seminoles - the opponent in Saturday night's game at Byrd Stadium - tap-dancing around the secondary's traditional helplessness against Florida State's passing attack.

Just another team? Well, Florida State quarterback Chris Rix and his receivers teamed up to gain 363 passing yards and score five touchdowns during a 52-31 rout of Maryland in Tallahassee, Fla., last year. And while their 183.5-yard passing average suggests a team living off its reputation, the Seminoles (2-0) still represent a chance for Maryland (1-1) to prove its ability to defend against a first-rate passing game.

"We play a lot of passing teams, so we go into every game with the mind-set that they're going to come at us," junior cornerback Curome Cox said. "As far as we're concerned, it's just another game. It doesn't mean anything further than that."

The word "denial" may surface, as Florida State seems to have owned Maryland's defensive backs since the series began in 1992. Out of 10 meetings, only twice have the Seminoles failed to pass for at least 300 yards.

Over the past five games in this matchup, Florida State's quarterbacks have thrown for 22 touchdowns against only five interceptions, averaging nearly 400 yards and compiling a 63 percent completion percentage.

If that were a season, it would rank as one of the best ever, as measured by the NCAA's passing efficiency formula.

Thus, all eyes turn toward toward the secondary each time the Florida State game approaches.

Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney gave some of the blame for last year's loss onto himself, saying that he didn't put the backs in the best possible position he could.

"I think I know Florida State better now," he said. "I know our assets. I think I have a better feel for any liabilities we have. So I feel like I can do a better job of putting our players in a better position to have success."

For the players, the strategy was to pretend the track record didn't exist. Last year was last year, they said. Nothing to avenge, not even for Dennard Wilson, now at strong safety, but a popular target at cornerback as Rix hit three different receivers for touchdowns in the fourth quarter of last year's game.

"I don't see that game anymore. That's last year," said Wilson, who was subbing for Tony Okanlawon, who was having an all-conference season before an undisclosed illness sidelined him. "If you have something negative, you can't linger over it because it would destroy you. I'm just ready to go play this year."

As courteous as the defensive backs were when talking about the game - as much as you possibly could given the subject matter - teammates, and the team's head coach, Ralph Friedgen, suggest that it bothers them to be the target.

Asked about Wilson's motivation heading into this game, Friedgen jokingly said, "I fast-forwarded a lot of those clips when we were showing tape ... Dennard's a character kid, and I would bet this game is going to be real important to him."

Last year, the Terps' front seven didn't do much to help out the secondary. Rix was sacked three times but had time enough to find any receiver he wanted to.

"I'm sure it bothers them, because it's not always their fault that things go wrong," defensive end Durrand Roundtree said. "There are 11 guys on the field and the ball really shouldn't even be getting there, but they don't let that get them down."

But the rap will persist so long as days like last year's Florida State and Florida games (456 passing yards in the latter) pop up. The only way to end it is to keep Seminoles receivers out of the end zone.

Even if that were to happen, Cox insists it's just another game.

"For us, I don't think it would make much of a difference," Cox said. "For the media and fans, it would mean more to them than to us."

NOTE: The Seminoles may be without sophomore starting safety Claudius Oesi (strained Achilles') on Saturday. He would be replaced by Yohance Buchanan.

Passing fancy

Florida State's recent passing history vs. Maryland:

Year....Score....Cmp.-Att. ....Yards....TDs....INTs

1997...Fla. State 50, Maryland 7...37-52...461...5...1

1998...Fla. State 24, Maryland 10...16-32...261...1...0

1999...Fla. State 49, Maryland 10...28-44...373...7...2

2000...Fla. State 59, Maryland 7...18-27...353...4...1

2001...Fla. State 52, Maryland 31...16-27...363...5...1

Totals 115-182 1,811 22 5

Next for Terps

Opponent:No. 5 Florida State (2-0)

Site:Byrd Stadium, College Park

When:Saturday, 7:45 p.m.

TV/Radio:ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line:Florida State by 14

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