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Two-stepping at the Peach Bowl

December 30, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - You could call it a game of chicken.

The Peach Bowl may be decided on which team flinches first - Maryland's offense or Tennessee's defense.

The game itself will be measured by yardage, but a couple of feet will make all the difference in the world.

That's all the Terrapins say they need - just two feet ... that's 24 inches - to make a difference on Tuesday in the 35th anniversary bowl game.

The Volunteers' style of pass defense makes that arm's length of space oh-so-important to Maryland if it hopes to have a diversified defense.

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"I think the No. 1 thing we have to worry about is their speed," Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien said. "They are all very quick and fast. When you face that kind of speed, they can afford to come up on your receivers. We have to go to beat them early to let them know that we can.

"If we can do that, it will give us two steps. And in a game like this, that's all you need."

Tennessee's lightning quickness - which will only be enhanced by playing on the artificial surface of the Georgia Dome - presents a problem that Maryland has been unable to solve.

"Tennessee is really good. We have a lot of really good players. Their defense is eighth in the country," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I have been watching it on film and they are very quick, like Notre Dame and Florida State. They run a press coverage. That have given us trouble."

Mention Notre Dame and Florida State and those are two games against nationally ranked teams on national television where Maryland didn't fare well, losing by an aggregate score of 59-10.

But Tennessee, Notre Dame and Florida State play the same style of defense. The cornerback are so speedy, they can come up on the line of scrimmage to knock receivers off their routes early. Or, the Volunteers can also lay back in coverage and use their closing speed to make plays on the ball.

"They are physical and they come up and press you at the line, but then there are times that they fall back and cover two deep," Maryland receiver Steve Suter said. "Every team brings something new to the table at these games. We have to be ready for anything."

Maryland's receiving corps was unable to separate themselves from the defenders in the Notre Dame and Florida State losses. That was compounded by the inexperienced play by McBrien, who faced two of the top teams in the country in his first three games as a starter.

It is also a throwback to the Orange Bowl and Maryland's two losses last season. Florida and Florida State's footspeed, particularly on offense, outclassed the Terrapins.

"I think that from the defensive aspect, Florida's speed killed us. The defense has to think of a way to keep up with them," Maryland receiver Scooter Monroe said. "Tennessee is around the top of the pack. They are like N.C. State and Florida State. When we are at the top of our game, we can play with anyone in the country. When we don't, you get games like Virginia."

Another Virginia-type game would be disastrous to Maryland. It was the third time this season that the national eyes were on the Terps and the didn't perform.

Tennessee's athletes will force Maryland to come to play if they want to win because the Terps don't offer anything the Vols haven't seen before.

"We were watching the SEC championship game and Arkansas runs a similar offense to what we do," McBrien said. "We will be nothing new to the SEC because teams like Alabama. We have to go down there and execute."

That execution has to come from the passing game. If Maryland can find a way to get its receivers free, it will had diversity to the Terps' game plan. If they don't, Tennessee will be in control.

"We just have to get off the line better against the pressure," Monroe said. "It forces us to have to win the one-on-one battles. If we can burn them deep once or twice early it will make a big difference. We want to be able to get the momentum early. Once we do that, it's easy to keep it going."

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