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W.Va., Maryland running into each other

September 19, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Today just might prove to be the reason there are erasers on pencils.

As late as a month ago, truthful Maryland fans probably marked an "L" on their pocket schedule next to the listing of today's game with West Virginia. After all, the Terps were coming off a 2-9 season, the game is at Mountaineer Field, early season polls had West Virginia highly ranked ... and oh yeah, WVU opened with No. 1-ranked Ohio State as a warmup.

In that same time span, ardent West Virginia fans probably scribbled a "W" next to Maryland on their schedules. After all, WVU fans don't expect or predict losses. The Mountaineers are at the top of their latest five-year national-threat cycle. And Maryland was 2-9 last year, the game is at Mountaineer Field, WVU is ranked ... and oh yeah, it opened with No. 1 Ohio State while the Terps opened with James Madison.

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A month ago, this was a no-brainer ... Now, think again.

Suddenly, Maryland caught West Virginia's attention. Forget the usual Coachspeak about any opponent on any day, the Terps made a real impression on WVU coach Don Nehlen with last week's game at Virginia. And Nehlen didn't have to go far to see it.

"I got that pay-per-view thing and watched all of Maryland playing Virginia last weekend," Nehlen said. "Maryland is a good football team. They ran the ball extremely well against Virginia."

Usually, the first rule of thumb among football coaches is to say your opponent is "a good football team." WVU fans have to admit that Nehlen is the president of that fraternity. But the notion that Maryland ran the ball well against Virginia, that's enough to cause shock and disbelief.

This is a Maryland team that limped through the 1997 season offensively.

A Maryland team that is trying to shake the effects of the run-and-shoot offense, which shot more than it ran.

A Maryland team that rushed for 42 yards in 42 rushes against James Madison, an NCAA Division I-AA team.

But Maryland turned it around with 188 ground yards against a Virginia team that shut out Auburn a week earlier on 18 yards rushing.

The Terps entered that game with No. 10 Virginia a 28-point underdog. They left losing, 31-19.

''The players were frustrated and disappointed because they knew we could have won that game,'' Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden said.

''We made a lot of improvement in a lot of areas, but we also made some mistakes that cost us. We need to take the next step, which is to put it all together and win.''

And you wonder why Nehlen is paying close attention.

WVU took a week off after its season-opening 34-17 loss to Ohio State. And not only was WVU's running game rendered useless by the high-scoring Buckeyes, but WVU also lost linebacker Gary Stills, arguably the team's best defensive player, with a broken kneecap.

Now, with Maryland showing a running game, WVU lost their pass rushing specialists. In the eyes of Nehlen, the 21-point spread - along with those preseason predictions - don't seem like sure things.

''You better believe they're going to run the ball at us,'' Nehlen said. ''We need to get a pass rush badly, and with Gary gone, that's a problem.''

Maryland showed problems protecting quarterback Ken Mastrole in obvious passing situations, resulting in six sacks and a costly interception. Only the rushes of LaMont Jordan (88 yards), Matt Kalapinski (87 yards) and Harold Westley (55 yards) forced the Cavs to play honest.

Still, Maryland isn't ready to challenge the Ohio States of the college football world anytime soon, but putting up a good hearty fight against WVU at Mountaineer Field could define the seasons for both the Terps and the Mountaineers.

''Maryland's always been a big game. When we lost to Maryland, things didn't go well, and when we won, it seemed like things went well. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's how it's seemed,'' Nehlen said.

Nehlen is 10-8 against Maryland. In seasons with the 10 wins, the Mountaineers are 83-32-3 with eight bowl invitations. In the season with the eight losses, WVU finished 47-45-1 with only three bowl getaways. WVU has a 17-16-2 edge in the overall series.

No wonder Nehlen is queasy and Vanderlinden is anxious for today's game.

"We need a breakthrough game," Vanderlinden said. "The kids are starting to see it. We have to keep working until it happens. The players feel better and that's critical for young players. But now, we have to take the next step. We need a win."

And a Terp win would put Maryland and West Virginia in the market for a big eraser.

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