The Penn State-Maryland game has come and gone and with it went this year's chance for the Terps to beat a team from college football's upper echelon.
Last year it was Houston. The year before, Penn State. Different villains but the same script: Maryland is tied to the railroad tracks and run over.
In the wake of that Terps' 27-9 loss to Penn State, coach Jerry Claiborne was asked yesterday if it disturbed him that, for whatever reason, Maryland has been unable to come up with the big win against a team with national prestige.
"I don't think that's true," said Claiborne. "He beat Florida in the Gator Bowl."
aiborne than begged off the subject of the Terps' last win in 1975, and talked testily of the issues of the present: The Terps' anemic rushing attack (31 yards in 37 carries), the injuries in two-thirds of the defensive secondary, the quarterbacks and the baffling tendency of the entire team to give up the big play instead of making it.
Claiborne said after the game that the rushing attack faltered because Penn State's interior line dominated Maryland's.
"But looking at the film, they didn't whip us as much as we thought," said Claiborne. "But our line has got to do a better job of blocking."
As for the runners, Claiborne may do a new juggling act here, adding third-string tailback George Scott to the group that already includes starter Steve Atkins and Preacher Maddox. "Yes, that's a possibility that I'll use Scott more," said Claiborne, of the 6-foot-2 sophomore, who also is the back-up fullback.
At tailback, Scott led the Maryland rushing attack, such as it was, with 32 yards on 13 carries.
Atkins, who had counted on this, his junior year, as his season to emerge as one of the nation's fine backs, gained 16 yards on 17 tries. He has yet to gain more than 90 yards in a game this season.
"I don't think Steve Atkins is running as hard as he did last year," said Claiborne, recalling how Atkins averaged 124 yards a game before the knee injury that knocked him out for the rest of his year. "He hurt his knee on the first play against Penn State - I don't know exactly what happened to it, but he went back in.
"He's just not running overall as well as last year, period."
Asked if Atkins would start against North Carolina State Saturday, Claiborne said. "We haven't made that decision yet.
"We just have to improve our running game. It's a must."
In three games, the Terps have scored just three touchdowns on the ground, bogging down near the end zone time after time. Saturday, with a first and goal at the two, Scott ran into the line three times, using the same play he had run successfully on the Terps' previous four plays. The Terps were forced to settle for the 18-yard field goal that tied the score, 3-3, at the end of the first half.
"I think he should have gotten the ball in on that third down run," said Claiborne. "When you get down there, you have to be your own blocker sometimes. Their linebacker just did a better job than our runner. The play was supposed to go to the corner. But he did the right thing and cut back in when it opened up."
Claiborne refused to share in the second-guessing over his conservative calls near the end zone.
"We got there running right at them," said Claiborne. It was admittedly the only rushing play that worked well all afternoon. "Time was of the essence, too," said Claiborne. If we had a run wide and didn't make it, we might not have had time for the field goal.
"It's easy to second-guess. If we had scored, it would have been a great call.
Claiborne's least favorite question, however, is how and when he will use his two quarterbacks, starter Mark Manges and substitute Larry Dick.
Dick was brought in with the Terps trailing, 20-3, in the fourth quarter, and drove them to their only touchdown - a 47-yard pass to Dean Richards.
Statistically Dick clearly has been the better passer on the season, 30 of 48 for three touchdowns, compared to Manges' 18 of 41 and no touchdowns. Manges is considered more versatile and a threat as a runner, although numbers suggest neither of them is awesome. Manges has 15 carries for minus nine yards, longest gain of five yards; Dick: 12 carries for minues 39 yards, longest gain one yard. Neither has carried the ball into the end zone.
Claiborne said, "Larry will play, and it might be sooner than the fourth quarter, depending on how things are going. Mark played outstanding football. They both did. We thought Mark was doing an excellent job at the things we wanted to do and then, when we got behind, we felt Larry could do the things we wanted to do at that time. I think Larry put it well when he said we were trying to find a spark, something to give the team momenturm."
Asked if that would continue to be Dick's role, Claiborne snapped, "I don't understand your question. You're just beating a dog to death."
Injuries posed a problem in the secondary, where right halfback Doug Harbert will be out for several weeks with a broken collarbone. Safety Jonathan Claiborne pulled the hamstring muscle that had bothered him last spring, and the coach was unsure of his son's status for Saturday's game. Chris Ward, a junior letterman, filled in at halfback, and John Stanford, a senior who has shared time with Claiborne, will fill in at safety, if need be.
Receiver Vince Kinney sprained an ankle but it is hoped he will be available Saturday.
Navy suffered a different sort of loss Saturday, the kind that brought out hundreds of members of brigade midshipmen to greet the team as it returned from Ann Arbor. Navy lost to top-ranked Michigan, 14-7, but dominated the second half of the game.
Oddly, the players and coach Geodge Welsh were not as excited as many Navy supporters were.
"I think we played well," said Welsh, "But we had a chance to win it and the players are disappointed."
Howard suffered a predictable 41-16 loss at South Carolina State, a school apparently on its way to a fourth straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title.
The Bison took advantage of a fumble for a quick touchdown and added a 33-yard field goal for a 9-0 first quarter lead before State began clicking with 28 points in the second period. Howard does not play this week.