Terps set for Round 2 vs. W.Va.

Mountaineers rematch has UM guarding against letdown in Gator Bowl

Terps rolled, 34-7, in September

`I think they got a little bit discouraged in the second half,' Perry says

January 01, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In September, Maryland's football team defeated West Virginia so thoroughly, so completely, it instantly restored the confidence and swagger of a young football team riddled with self-doubt.

Incredibly, Maryland's 34-7 win had the same effect on the Mountaineers.

Humiliated by such a poor performance in College Park, West Virginia won seven of its next eight games, and today it can gauge how far its program has come when the two schools meet again in the Gator Bowl.

But for No. 23 Maryland (9-3), today's game at Alltel Stadium is as much a Catch-22 as it is a chance to win a second straight bowl game. Win, and Maryland will have simply beaten a team it already proved it was capable of dominating. Lose, and it will look like a regression in the Terps' quest for national respect.

Though there is still plenty of motivation - a victory would give Maryland three consecutive years with 10 or more wins - it's clear that No. 20 West Virginia (8-4) has more to gain from this rematch.

Still, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said his players will be ready, and he knows that sustained excellence requires proving yourself time and time again.

"Maryland-West Virginia is a tremendous rivalry, and I have tremendous respect for them," Friedgen said. "If we played each other 11 times a year, it would still be a good football game."

For a week, Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez has been peppered with questions about how his team can expect to beat Maryland after being so convincingly defeated in the first meeting. Speaking yesterday at the final news conference for players and coaches, Rodriguez, a father of a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, referenced the wisdom of a Walt Disney film to provide an answer.

"If you've ever seen The Lion King, there's a scene there where the monkey hits the lion on the head," Rodriguez said. "The lion says, `What [did] you do that for?' And the monkey says, `It doesn't matter, it's in the past.' I've told our guys that if you lose the last play, you've got to move on."

Rodriguez admitted, however, that if you lose too many plays, you'll look up and find yourself down three touchdowns. That's what happened in the first game against Maryland, when the Terps' defense held the Mountaineers to 58 yards in the first half. Maryland grabbed a 20-0 lead and, from that point, the outcome was a formality.

"I think they got a little bit discouraged in the second half," said Terps running back Bruce Perry. "It's hard to get up for the next play when you're getting blown out. But I don't think we'll see any of that from them this time."

Discouraged is a generous way of describing quarterback Scott McBrien's feelings three years ago when he quit the football team at West Virginia because Rodriguez, in his first year as head coach, didn't think McBrien fit into his plans at quarterback.

Rodriguez and McBrien also didn't get along personally, though they have done their best to bury the hatchet publicly. McBrien's ultimate revenge, however, has been on the field. He has won 20 games at Maryland, throwing for 5,543 yards and 34 touchdowns. With a win today, he also can go 3-0 against his former coach.

"He's done a great job," Rodriguez said. "But I don't view this as Scott McBrien against West Virginia. He's a great quarterback that could play in any system, and he's played very well against everybody. ... He's also got a lot of great players around him."

One of those players is Perry, who will wrap up a promising, yet trying, career today. He was named the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year in 2002, but ankle, shoulder, groin and abdominal injuries have kept Perry from sustaining that excellence. But with 237 yards in his last game against Wake Forest, Perry looks healthy for the first time in two years. Against West Virginia this year, he rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

The crowd today is expected to be one of the biggest in Gator Bowl history, according to bowl officials, with West Virginia fans buying 23,000 tickets and Maryland fans purchasing 17,000. Rodriguez quickly dismissed any suggestion, however, that the larger Mountaineers contingent could provide an advantage.

"We might win the tailgate party," Rodriguez said. "But I think the crowd will be loud for whichever team is playing well."

NOTE: Rodriguez said that after talking it over with his team captains, wide receiver Travis Garvin, who was suspended Tuesday and threatened to be sent home for a violation of team rules, will be in uniform for today's game. "I changed my mind," Rodriguez said. "He made a mistake. It wasn't a major thing, but nonetheless, we have some rules." Rodriguez said he might let Garvin play in the second half, but that the score of the game would not dictate his decision.

Gator Bowl

Matchup: No. 23 Maryland (9-3) vs. No. 20 West Virginia (8-4)

Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Today, 12:30 p.m.

TV/Radio:Chs. 11, 4/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 3 1/2

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