At 1 a.m. this morning, Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne briefly escaped the widespread celebrating to take a first look at the statistics of his team's 17-7 Hall of Fame Bowl win over Minnesota.
"This makes me feel for sure what I have felt all along, that if we had been healthy, we would have been a much better team," said Claiborne. "It's restored my faith in these kids. They proved me right tonight."
The Terps rallied from a one-touch-down deficit, recovered a key Minnesota fumble deep in Maryland territory when down 7-3 and gained a special measure of satisfaction by shutting out a big 10 conference team the rest of the way.
"The big play was the fumble," said Claiborne, referring to defensive back Doug Harbert's recovery of Marion Barbee's fumble at the Terps' eight-yard line late in the first quarter. "Really, if they had gone on to score and make it 14-3, we would have been put at a real deficiency, and then they could do what they like - run and eat up the clock."
Instead, the Golden Gophers could not even get close enough to the goal for their workhorse placekicker to do his thing. Sidewinder Paul Rogind kicked key field goals in four of Minnesota's seven wins, including two games won with kicks in the last 10 seconds.
But last night he could only get close enough for a 52-yard attempt that was blocked by Lloyd Burruss. After Avery's fumble was recovered by Harbert (in his first action since breaking his clavicle in the Penn State game), the Gophers interrupted their next two drives with delay of game penalties and a fumble by quarterback Wendell Avery deep in Minnesota ground.
The Terps capitalized on the Avery fumble with a 14-yard drive for a 17-7 lead at the half.
In the second half, Minnesota never threatened. The Gophers didn't cross midfield until there was 2:35 left in the game. What Maryland had done was take away the Gophers' short passing game, which had been moving pretty well, by dropping the defensive ends off into double coverage.
"They put four receivers out and we started playing more double coverage," said Claiboren. "We just didn't know if we could hold up in the middle against (fullback Kent) Kitzmann and those people."
Kitzmann had rushed for 420 yards in his previous two games on strictly up the middle stuff. But Maryland's interior line of tackles Charlie Johnson and Eddie Gall and guards Ted Kluabe and Bruce Palmer limited Kitzmann to 76 yards. Johnson had 11 solo tackles and four sacks.
"Charlie Johnson was great. You couldn't help seeing it from the sideline," said Claiborne. "He isn't always that way. There's no question this was one of his best games since he's been here.
"We ran our linebackers through when they tried to run their fullback and then double covered the receivers with our defensive ends. This helped us, and the shifting around of people confused Minnesota and caused them to take delay-of-game penalties."
As Claiborne's encircled eyes glanced wearily from his bedroom slipper to his handful of statistics, there was no ignoring a sense of tranquil satisfaction.
"The biggest thing I'll remember about this team is how we came back from being 1-3 to go 7-1 the rest of the way. That too character," said Claiborne. "I guess the second thing I'll remember is the number of injuries."
And somewhere in the Top Ten of Claiborne's memory bank is a long-awaited ACC win over a team from a prestigious conference, the Big Ten.
"I've said all along, and you people don't pay attention, that the Clemson-Notre Dame game, the North Carolina-Nebraska game, the Duke-Michigan games were all close, decided by a few key plays," said Claiborne. "We're not as strong from top to bottom as the Big Ten but the best teams can play with anybody.
"I wish North Carolina had beaten Nebraska in the Liberty Bowl (the Tar Heels lost, 21-17, after leading 17-7 in the fourth quarter).This is what we need in our conference, to beat a few of those teams.
"We beat a team that beat both the Rose Bowl teams (Michigan and Washington). We didn't beat a slouch.
"I don't know what the final polls will be. I guess it depends on how everybody plays. I think we can beat some teams in the Top 20.
"I'm just real proud of the way our season ended. It certainly gives our players something to build on."
Maryland loses 12 starters, including punter-placekicker Mike Sochko and both quarterbacks, Larry Dick and Mark Manges.
The defense will be especially hard-hit and the offense will have an inexperienced quarterback.