In last year's episode at State College, Pa., Maryland was very much alive until two long Chuck Fusina passes ripped the game open in the second half.

"Fusina," said Maryland Coach Jerry Caliborne, "is the best deep passer I've ever seen in college football . . . or maybe anywhere."

Last year, Fusina passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Nittany Lions over the Terps 27.9. This year, he is a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterbacking an unbeaten team with an excellent shot at a national title.

The winner of Saturday's game could be invited to the Orange Bowl, probably play Oklahoma for a likely shot at the national championship.

Penn State is a 6 1/2-point favorite to hand the fifth-ranked Terrapins their first loss, and if Maryland is to prove the oddsmakers wrong, it must do something about stopping Fusina.

The Terrapins find some reason for optimism. They are the best team Penn State has faced so far. Their pass-rush crew is their best ever, already recording 45 sacks and on its way to breaking the mark of 50 set in 1975. Even Randy White's sack record of 12 would be wiped out Saturday if Bruce Palmer gets to Fusina twice.

As for the secondary, Assistant Coach Terry Strock says it "the best from top to bottom that we (the Claiborne staff) have had in our seven years here."

The pass that pointed Penn State in the direction of victory last year was Fusina's 58-yard scoring strike to Jimmy Cefalo, who beat safety Jonathan Claiborne for the touchdown and a 10-3 lead. Another bomb was dropped in Doug Harbert's area, and Harbert made every effort to defend on the play to the extent of breaking his collarbone. But the Penn State receiver made an excellent catch and the Nittany Lions ran away.

This year, two new men have joined left halfback Lloyd Burruss in the Terp secondary. Steve Trimble is at Harbert's right halfback spot, and Ralph Lary is at safety. Lary is injured and may not play Saturday, or the may split time with John Baldante. Sam Johnson also provides capable backup help to round out the secondary.

"A majority of our defensive backs came in bench-pressing over 300 pounds this year, and that's the first time we're ever had that happen," said Strock.

The leader of this group is Burruss, one of the top three or four all-around athletes on the team, according to the Terp testing program. He started his last two games as a freshman, as well as his entire sophomore year, and this season, he says, "I'm even surprising myself. Every game my confidence goes up more."

Professional scouts already have taken note of the 6-foot, 197-pound Burruss, who bench-presses 345 pounds, runs the 40 in 4.5 and leads the team in interceptions with three.

Maryland will look to him Saturday because Burruss has been the Terps' big-play man this year. He has blocked two field goals, returned a punt 47 yards for a touchdown, set up another touchdown by running a punt back 56 yards and returned an interception 43 yards.

In the 'Terps' last two games, the offense has needed the defense and kicking teams to set up almost all its scoring drives from short range.

"We definitely have to make some big plays, on offense and defense," said Burruss.

"This is like the biggest game of my life. We know we have a short at the national championship, and everybody is going to play a terrific game. I can feel it."

"Fusina is definitely the best quarterback I've ever faced. He's got such a great arm, he throws better long than short. He's a great leader for them, too."

"If we don't give 'em anything cheap, I feel we have a great chance of winning this game. We've got to make Penn State earn what they get. I've been noticing how intent everyone has been in practice. We're up to it."

Maryland hasn't beaten Penn State since 1961-the Terps' only victory in 23 games against the Lions.

"You do wonder about that," said Burruss. "But no two teams are exactly alike.

"This year, instead of negative vibes, I get all positive vibes. We haven't beaten them. People don't think we can beat them. So we are just going to accept the challenge and play Maryland football.

"I figure Penn State is just as worried as we are."

The Terps are coming off two straight shutouts. They haven't given up a touchdown in 11 quarters, have given up only two touchdowns in the last five games and have allowed an opponent to score on only 6 percent of drives that have started on the far side of the 50 (including field goals).

"This is what we preach to the offense," said Strock. "Don't give the ball up inside the 50."

In eight games so far, opponents have completed only 12 passes of more than 17 yards, and have had only five runs of more than 15 yards.

Burruss has 19 RBI - Maryland's all-encompassing term of such categories as interceptions, sacks, recovered fumbles and great hits.

Oddly, Burruss has never been all-conference and was not highly recruited out of Charlottesville High School.

"I don't care about all that. I just put my faith in the Lord," said Burruss, who joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as a freshman. "Christian are not supposed to have sex before marriage or go out drinking to get in an imaginary state. Beer drinking is not my habit, and I don't smoke or mess around with any of that stuff. It's hard in college life, not doing what everybody else is doing. And Christians aren't sinless. They just sin less."

"The biggest thing we had to teach him," said Strock, "was to slow down on supporting the run. He's so aggressive."

Why wasn't he highly recruited?

"I have no idea. Glad we found him."