For ever so long yesterday, nearly long enough in fact to start collegaite seismographs fluttering around the nation, there was the strangest football game in Byrd Stadium: the Maryland offense was playing against the Maryland defense.

A team called Villanova also was on the field. But it truthfully was rather incidental to the important matters, except that had the Terrapin offense blundered one more time, Villanova would have been credited with the biggest upset in memory.

In blunt terms, what the Maryland defense took from Villanova the offense gave back. The Terrapins nearly lost because they violated the first law of football: Nobody can score without the ball. They won because they finally learned the first law and also the second: Good backs run splendidly behind great blockers.

Maryland showed just enough yesterday during that come-from-behind 24-20 victory to allow optimists and pessimists equal satisfaction. Probably, the Terrapins have too many players injured to crack any top-20 polls. But they are strong enough in enough anonymous positions to make every game close.

And probably a bore.

The cornerstone of the team is the offensive line -- and Maryland showed yesterday it seems to play best with its head stuck firmly inside its shell. The few fancy plays Jerry Claiborne used usually ended dreadfully. When Charlie Wysicki plunged between members of an offensive line that probably could move intact into the pros, Maryland was in fine shape.

Wysocki, as long as he keeps from fumbling, quarterback Mike Tice and a few others might well be glorified for accomplishments made almost entirely possible by players who rarely are noticed beyond next of kind.

And pro scouts.

Yes, in the press box yesterday, two NFL scouts were paying special attention to such as Phil Livingston, Larry Stewart, Eric Slevers and Tom Burgess -- and noting that another blocker, Kervin Wyatt, may be the best of the bunch but a tad small for success beyond college.

Now any offensive line that has five of its seven players that highly regarded by the NFL is excellent. Seven? For sure, because the Terrapins played best yesterday when tight ends Sievers and Burgess were in the game together.

Wysocki carried the ball 32 times for 161 yards -- and he looked like an ordinary human dashing among trees, for the Maryland tackles, Livingston and Stewart weigh 270 and 280 pounds, respectively, both tight ends are at least 6-foot-4 and the guards are in the 240 range.

"And I like to follow him on that 48," said Wysocki, nodding toward Tice and referring to the number of the favorite Maryland play -- the halfback sweep.

Tice is 6-7.

So when Tice flips the ball to Wysocki and joins his pals lumbering ahead upfield, there often is more daylight than most backs ever see.For the defense, Livingston and the others blot out the sun.

"Toward the end of the game," Livingston said. "When we had to score, we got the job done. It had to be done and we did it."

It had to be done late, because fumbles, interceptions and penalties had allowed what should have been a tuneup to become tense.

"The first time we scored was one of the best drives since I've been here," Livingston said. "We took the ball and jammed it down their throats. We knew we could do it, so probably we let down, thought: 'Hey, this is going to be a cake walk.' I think I did, and when things like that happen to me I assume the happen to the rest of the team."

Livingston has been around long enough to judge Terrapin teams.

When many football players have trouble learning Xs and Os on the field and the rest of the alphabet off the field, Livingston already is in graduate school.

What makes him even more special is that he was graduated last spring with degrees in business management and government and politics. A year-old NCAA rule allows players to complete their four-year careers in five years even if the player is in graduate school.

"I went to every summer school, too," Livingston said. "So I had 150 credits when a lot of students never get 120 (the minimum to graduate). I'm the youngest in my grad classes (in finance) and I come in soaking wet after practice. Also, I'm a giant compared to them.

"If I'd been accepted in grad school at Stanford, I might not have come back (for the final year of football). And I'm planning like a pro career is not going to happen, because that's so uncertain."

So is Maryland's football fate this season. An offensive line, regardless of the talent, is only effective as long as the quarterback and wide receivers keep the defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage.

As Claiborne, not trying to be funny, said: "Clemson (next week's opponent) is a different breed of cat."