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Has UM season gone to birds?

October 31, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

BALTIMORE - The University of Maryland is looking for a football nirvana.

A haven where good football teams bring good crowds to support the home team. That hallowed ground that turns into Halloween for opponents.

For now, that place isn't Byrd Stadium. In the last few home games, the Terrapins' old yard has been more like a Byrd sanctuary ... a place were very few fans have flocked to roost.

Coach Ron Vanderlinden knows the Terps' success hasn't been for the Byrds. So maybe that's why today's game with Georgia Tech puts his emotions in flight. After all, fans of a different feather may flock together to see even a 2-6 team play where the Ravens play.

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The noon game may be just what Maryland needs to keep its record from going south for the winter.

"We haven't won ... that's the bottom line," Vanderlinden said. "Our crowd (against Wake Forest) dropped off from the crowd we drew for the Florida State game and part of that is our fault. We have to give them something to hang onto."

Or in this case, something to perch hopes on. In the last 12 years, the Terps have recorded only three winning seasons and one bowl bid, a mark that won't be threatened despite some encouraging signs this year.

For Maryland, today's game represents the first step in building that hopeful perch. The Terps play one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top teams in Georgia Tech (5-2, 4-1) before a crowd estimated to top 30,000, even though most will probably be on hand to see to new stadium instead of the game.

"Georgia Tech is a challenging opponent," Vanderlinden said. "They lead the ACC in offense. They are very explosive and they blitz a lot. They say they are coming to get you and that they will be relentless until something good happens for them."

The Yellow Jackets are led by quarterback Joe Hamilton, the ACC's leading passer at 213.7 yards per game, but he will be slowed by a hip pointer he suffered in last week's 34-7 loss to Florida State.

Meanwhile, Maryland enjoyed an off week, giving the Terps ample time to tinker with their passing attack to make quarterback Randall Jones more comfortable and more dangerous.

"We worked more on play action attack and changed some concepts to see what Randall does well," Vanderlinden said. "We cut back on some reads, making them simpler. It will be safe to say we will be more wide open now."

Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary admits Jones gives Maryland a new dimension to games which have been competitive, even though it hasn't been winning.

"Maryland has been involved in every game," O'Leary said. "They are stingy and don't allow a lot of points. They make you work for everything you get. For them, it's a matter of generating that run and pass game hand in hand."

The strong running attack Maryland featured early suffered when it switched from quarterback Ken Mastrole to Jones. Different quarterbacks meant different strengths and less consistency. Which meant a three-game losing streak and more empty seats in Byrd Stadium.

A win today against a top opponent before a big crowd could help.

"Now is the time for the fans to stand up and be counted," Vanderlinden said. "A lot of them stray away when there hasn't been much success. We came in here at a difficult time, but I'm not going to hang my head. This will be the most important off-season at Maryland since Jerry Claiborne took over the program."

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