Offensive line takes a stand for Terrapins

November 14, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

COLLEGE PARK - When the University of Maryland ran up 612 yards of total offense 12 days ago against North Carolina, no one knew if the Tar Heels' defense was that bad, or if the Terps' offensive line had improved significantly.

And then came last night. Guess what? The Terps' line is healthy, happy and playing as well as can be expected for a group that has missed so much playing time together.

Maryland's offensive line of tackles Stephon Heyer, Eric Dumas, guards C.J. Brooks, Lamar Bryant and center Kyle Schmitt controlled the line of scrimmage early and late in Maryland's 27-17 win against Virginia last night at Byrd Stadium.

It was an offensive lineman's dream game, especially in the first half when Maryland had 293 yards of total offense, and the Terps bolted to a 24-7 halftime lead. The Terps' offense was so balanced because Maryland's offensive line was in such control.

The Terps rushed for 181 yards in the first half, 154 from Josh Allen, who finished with 257 for the game, the third-best single-game total in Maryland history. Allen finished with a 6.8-yards-per-carry average, and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen with a smile.

"How about that offensive line?" said Friedgen, whose Terps finished 6-0 at home this season. "They did a nice job. When a running back puts up those kinds of numbers, it's good to be part of something like that. Josh Allen obviously had an unbelievable night. I thought our offensive line blocked very, very well.

"[Virginia] is a team that, as I said at Tuesday's press conference, had done a great job stopping the run with a seven-man box. They must have heard the press conference because they were putting eight people in the box the whole night."

After the Terps failed to mount any substantial drives in the third quarter, the offensive line helped Allen and the offense grind out yards and time late in the fourth quarter to secure the victory.

Virginia pulled within 24-17 with 9:15 left in the game, but Maryland answered with a 10-play, 45-yard scoring drive that ended with a 45-yard field goal from Nick Novak with 3:42 remaining. Allen ran behind Brooks for 10 yards for a critical first down on one play, and then ran for 19 more behind Brooks again down to the Cavaliers' 29 on the next play.

Maryland finished the way it started. With the running game going so smoothly in the first half, Maryland's play-action game was superb and Terps quarterback Scott McBrien was comfortable in running everything from waggles to bootlegs as he threw for 112 yards in the first two quarters, and finished with 191 for the game, completing 14 of 21 passes.

It was the second consecutive solid effort by the Terps' offensive line, and signaled that the group has returned from a season of injuries and frustration. How frustrating?

At one point this season, Friedgen criticized the group publicly, and advertised to possible incoming recruits that they should come to Maryland, where they might get a chance to play immediately.

That was gutsy and bold, but also true. There were several times this season when Maryland's offensive line was decimated by injuries and morale problems. The injuries came early. Very early.

Bryant, the team's best lineman and emotional leader, broke his right foot in training camp. His replacement, Ed Tyler, had to leave the starting lineup the second week of the season with a leg infection. So did his replacement, Akil Patterson, who sprained his ankle in the second game against Florida State. That left Maryland playing with a fourth-string guard starting at one point.

Even when Maryland did get Bryant back against West Virginia in Game No. 4, he was slowed but played with an injured shoulder, and Brooks was hindered by turf toe. Once the Terps struggled against Georgia Tech on national television on Oct. 23 in a 7-3 loss, Friedgen had enough.

Friedgen, a former offensive lineman and line coach, started going to offensive-line meetings during the week, not to coach the players, but to create some intensity. Against North Carolina, he came out so fired up that he started head-butting Bryant. Then he started bumping chests with other players. The only thing missing for Friedgen was gear.

He got the Terps excited, but the North Carolina game was considered a fluke because the Tar Heels have one of, if not the worst, defenses in college football. But last night, the Terps proved themselves again.

The offensive line gave a strong effort in the first half, but seemed to lose its rhythm in the third quarter. But on the next to last offensive series, it helped power Allen and the Terps to victory. "Those two runs helped us put them [Virginia] away," said Friedgen.

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