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

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.

It was the second good back- to- back 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, Maryland head coach Ralph 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, 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 them, 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.

Something 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 their next to last offensive series, they helped power Allen to runs of 10 and 19 yards, which helped set up a 45-yard field goal by Novak with 3:40 left in the game to put the Terps ahead 27-17.

It was a big win for Maryland, not just because of bowl bids, but because the Terps want to establish a rivalry with Virginia. Maybe now Virginia will take University of Maryland's invitation more seriously.

Ever since Friedgen arrived in College Park three years ago, he has been trying to find a rival game. Georgia Tech has Georgia. Auburn has Alabama. Oklahoma has Texas.

Maryland has nobody.

But after three years of snubbing their noses and looking down on the Terps, Virginia might want to pay a little more attention to their neighbors on the border, and we"re not talking about Virginia Tech. Friedgen has beaten the Cavaliers twice in three years.

Last year, Virginia head coach Al Groh took a slap at Maryland's schedule because the Terps went to the Peach Bowl instead of the Cavaliers, who ended up in the Continental Tire Bowl. The two sides have butted heads over recruits and exchanged some insults, and last night players and coaches from both sides exchanged heated words at midfield before the game.

But when the game started, it was Maryland's offensive line that won the shoving match, pushing the Cavaliers around early in the game, and late in the fourth quarter when it mattered most.

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