Maryland and Navy registered easy victories Saturday to keep the Free State unbeaten in major college football. But neither team can afford to spend time gloating over its triumph because the next test is the toughest.
The Terrapins, 27-0 victors over Duke, will travel to second-ranked Penn State in a match between 8-0 clubs; the Mids take on Notre Dame in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium.
"I haven't mentioned it much, but I've been thinking about Penn State all year," said Terrapin tailback Steve Atkins. "I think the team will be ready - I know I will."
Should the Terrapins beat penn State, they would legitimize their ranking No. 5 last week and, with Virginia and a home contest against No. 20 Clemson remaining on their schedule, make a decisive move on duplicating their perfect season of 1976.
Atkins admitted he was a "little surprised" at Maryland going 8-0. "I knew we'd have a pretty good team, though. A lot of people on campus still don't believe we're that good, but I know we're real. That's all that counts."
Atkins, evaluating his team's chances against the Nittany Lions, said, "We've got to control the ball, make no silly mistakes and be consistent. When everybody gets together, we can move the ball."
Although Maryland was outgained by Duke, 278 to 258 yards, the opportunistic Terps used five turnovers to set up short touchdown drives of 18, 26 and 30 yards. Atkins, held under 100 yards for the first time this season (he gained 74 on 24 carries), scored all three touchdowns.
"We've got to establish more long drives - control the ball a little more," said Maryland Coach Jerry Clairborne, echoing his sentiments of the last few weeks. "The turnovers we have recovered have been saving us.
"In going unbeaten against all preseason predictions, the players feel they have accomplished something. I think they are going to be confident."
Maryland will need all the self-assurance it can muster, having lost 15 straight times to Penn. State. Last year's score was 27-9,
Kentucky Coach Fran Curci, whose team dropped a 30-0 game to the Lions and was beaten by Maryland 20-3, thinks the game will be evenly matched.
"It's a question of Atkins being able to run against Penn State and (Chuck) Fusina's ability to throw on the Maryland defense," said Curci. "Other than those factors, both offenses should be neutralized against two great defenses. Atkins is as good a tailback as there is in the country."
Navy, ranked 18th last week, will be trying to break a futility record against the Irish. The Mids last won in 1963 and since have dropped 14 straight games. Notre Dame, currently ranked 19th took last year's mismatch, 43-10.
"I feel pretty good about our chances," said Navy Coach George Welsh. "When you play great defense you have a shot in every game you play."
Welsh had been reluctant to use the term "great" about his defenders through the first six games, but Saturday's 21-11 throttling of the 15th-ranked Panthers - Navy's first tough opponent - apparently changed his thinking.
Pitt finished with minus-28 yards rushing and did not score its touchdown until the fourth quarter after the game had been decided. The 11 points were the most Navy's top-ranked defense has yeilded this season.
"We went into our first game this season wondering how we were going to be," said Welsh. "There wasn't that much experience on the team. After winning that game we could see we had something going. The victory over Boston College helped, too, since we had had trouble with them in the past.
"I hope we can get a couple of breaks against Notre Dame. The thing that worried me against Pitt was our turnovers (one interception, three fumbles lost). We had a couple in the fourth quarter in our own territory. Also, we need better coverage on kickoffs."
Air Force Coach Bill Parcells, whose Falcons dropped games to both the Middles and irish, likes Navy's chances. "I'm not picking Navy, but I think they have a good chance to win. The strengths of both teams are the same: both defend the run well. Notre Dame passes very well but won't be able to beat Navy without running some."
In the late Saturday game, 10th-ranked Houston (No. 11 by AP) spotted Arkansas a 9-0 lead before shutting the Razorbacks down for a 20-9 Cougar victory. Houston's defense stopped first-half Arkansas drives at the the Cougar 3-, 25- and 10-yard lnes to force the visitors to settle for field goals.
Randy Love and Emmett King scored on runs of one and 14 yards, respectively, and Danny Davis passed four yards to Willie Adams for the Cougar scores. The loss was the second straight for the ninth-ranked (11th by UPI) Razorbacks.
Rex Robinson booted a 29-yard field goal with eight seconds left to lift No. 13 Georgia (16th, AP) to a 17-16 decision over host Kentucky. Wildcat kicker Tommy Griggs had missed a 42-yard attempt minutes earlier and was unsuccessful on an extra-point attempt.