Terps building the fire

November 25, 1998|By Bob Parasiliti

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Poof. That puff of smoke you see is what's left of the University of Maryland football season.

That's what happens when a team combines a paper-thin offense with a red-hot defense. It's flammable, for a while.

That flicker of flame produced three wins in 11 tries for the Terps, who lost six of their last seven.

After the first five games, Maryland smoldered when it had a chance to spread like wildfire. The Atlantic Coast Conference doused the Terps' dreams with a cold bucket of reality.

When the smoke clears - and the criticism that goes with impatience among fans - Maryland's season finished almost exactly where it was projected to be. You won't hear anyone at Byrd Stadium admit it, but realistic goals would have been for the Terps to win three or four games this season.

Which they did. And if you qualify progress, three wins is a 50 percent increase over what coach Ron Vanderlinden provided in his first year on the job rebuilding the long-struggling program.


Fans who take the time to look at the big picture should take heart, especially if they realize that usually where there's smoke, there's fire.

And in the case of Maryland, that smoke is rising from a distant fire ... one that probably won't stoke Terrapin fortunes for another two years, provided they stay on the course Vanderlinden has fanned.

From the beginning, Maryland was a team wearing a lot of bandages.

The Terps were switching quarterbacks to Ken Mastrole, who never earned a total endorsement. They had an offensive line which needed to lose weight to be effective. And they had a secondary which had to wear flame-retardant jerseys last year.

Maryland continued its evolution from a run-and-shoot offense to a run-oriented, ball-control package which featured the threat of an option attack built around running back LaMont Jordan.

The offense showed promise, but Mastrole failed to stand up under heavy rushes behind the still struggling offensive line.

Despite the 2-3 start, the slow-but-sure process started to supplant Mastrole with true freshman Randall Jones from Thomas Johnson. The change at quarterback, coupled with the unrealistic thoughts that the Terps could actually win four of their last six games and sneak into a bowl, changed the season outlook.

The focus went off a time-consuming offense to one of explosions. The option attack was tailored to fit Jones, who at the same time was trying to light Maryland's fuse with the pass.

From there everything fizzled. The defense kept Maryland in games, covering up the offensive inadequacies. The Terps were competitive, but they didn't win.

The thing Maryland fans must remember is that more than half of the personnel who competed for the Terps in 1998 were freshmen or sophomores. That's Ron Vanderlinden recruiting at work.

The time for success for Maryland football is coming ... The Terps just need more time to fan the flames.

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