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Terps' trial a tangle with Tigers

October 10, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

For the University of Maryland football team, it's time for the games to begin.

The Terrapins are sitting at "Go" waiting for the first spin of the wheel in their version of Life. Their first moves could well define the 1998 season, while defining the direction of the program for the next few years.

Maryland faces struggling Clemson today at noon at famed Death Valley, another in a long line of intimidating road settings for the Terps. But the tussle with the Tigers could go a long way to determine whether Maryland is one of the surprise teams of 1998 or just building.

"We are very confident in our ability," Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden said. "We are not the same team we used to be."

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The transformation of the Terps started at quarterback. Vanderlinden named Randall Jones, a Thomas Johnson graduate, the starter for the game on Monday. Jones, who replaces junior Ken Mastrole, will the first true freshman ever to start at quarterback for Maryland.

Jones is the latest piece in proving that the Terps are moving to a run-oriented offense spiked with an option package. Jones mobility and ability to throw on the run is crucial for success.

"He's the future right now," Vanderlinden said. "I think the timing's right. He's ready. The team's ready. We've allowed both of them the chance to move the offense and win the job on the field. I think it's obvious to both me and the coaches that he gives us the best chance to move the ball and score."

Vanderlinden may not have picked a better time than now to install Jones at quarterback.

Maryland (2-3, 0-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming out of the half of the schedule where it was overmatched and is heading into the part which might be competitive.

Three of the Terps' first five games were against Top 25 teams - all losses. The rest of the season will be against ACC teams that are not rated and suffering through various degrees of success.

"I don't think the ACC has been more interesting or more competitive than it is now," Vanderlinden said. "You have Wake Forest losing to Appalachian State in overtime. Clemson and North Carolina having their problems. Duke beating Northwestern but struggling too."

And all those opponents are ahead, turning what had been a low-key approach to the season into a quiet quest for a bowl bid.

The Terps need to win four of their last six games to be considered as a bowl team. Maryland opens the final run against Clemson, which is winless in the ACC, followed by next week's homecoming matchup with Wake Forest. Duke is also ahead in another winable game.

The other three games are against a down North Carolina team, Georgia Tech - played at the Baltimore Ravens new stadium - and North Carolina State, the ACC's giant killers which seem to play to the level of competition.

But first, it's Clemson. Although the Tigers are 1-4 overall and 0-3 in the ACC, they own the league's best defense against the run - the staple of Maryland's attack.

"Clemson is third in the ACC in total defense," Vanderlinden said. "We have our work cut out for us.''

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