In a season full of strange events, perhaps the prize surprise has been the performances of Maryland's defense.
At Wake Forest Saturday, the 2-3 Terps will face the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading passer, receiver and rusher with a defense that only last week began to look as if it were at Maryland on scholarship. "The biggest thing we're lacking is that we're not getting any interceptions," said coach Jerry Claiborne. "Last year at this time , we had eight."
This year, they have one.
Last year, Maryland finished second in the nation in defense against scoring, giving up 7.7 points a game. So far this season, opponents are averaging 19.8 points a contest, too many to be overcome by a youthful offense hampered by injuries.
Maryland is dead last in the conference in pass defense, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 57 of 105 passes for 771 yards. Against the rush, the Terps have fared better, but have still surrendered seven touchdowns and an average of 167 yards per game.
"We're giving up too many points. We're not stopping people like we used to last year," said Claiborne. "The best pass defense is a good rush; we haven't been getting the pressure on the passer that we need. This is the key to it."
Claiborne's secondary has been hurt by injudies to safety Jonathan Claiborne, who is just returning, to halfback Doug Harbert, out for several weeks, and to backup safety Chris Ward, who is doubtful for Saturday's game.
Wake Forest quarterback Mike McGlamry is averaging 10 completions per game, best in the league, but that is a statistic that may be misleading because the Deacons, 1-4, have done a lot of desperation throwing late in games. Claiborne anticipates seeing backup Bob Hely, who he feels may be even better than McGlamry.
Deacon running back James McDougald statistics that are not deceiving - just frightening. He leads the ACC in rushing with 565 yards, which breaks down to 113 a game. The numbers are especially impressive because McDougald has been slowed this season by charleyhorses in both legs and by a shoulder bruise, and played only briefly against Purdue, gaining 47 yards.
The other stat leader is receiver Steve Young, 6-foot-5, 215-pound tight end with 28 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
Maryland has some offensive players high on the ACC lists.Quarterback Larry Dick, who will take over for the injured Mark Manges, has the best completion percentage (.600) in the ACC and is third in total offense with a 145-yard average. Vince Kinney, who has routinely made impossible catches this season, is second to Young with 21 receptions for 402 yards, with Dean Richards fourth at 17 for 274.
If anything, the Terps offense has been better than expected, but it's better at the least desirable part of Claiborne's game plan - passing.
Even though the Terps have shown a consistently strong air game this year. Claiborne has not been converted.
"We feel you win a game by dominating, and you dominate by controling the line of scrimmage," said Claiborne. "We looked at our stats from last year at this time, and we're running about half as well and throwing a hundred yards more. We still have to get our ground game going, get better interior blocking."