Maryland defensive tackle Ed Gall slammed shut his locker, looked around at teammates dressing for practice yesterday and summed up the Terps' attitude as they prepare to play Clemson Saturday:
"This is no time for fooling around," Gall said. "We all know that. Clemson's just like us. They like to punish you. They come at you. We have to be tougher."
This is cliche week on the College Park campus. The Terrapins lost the Atlantic Coast Conference championship to the Tigers, 28-24, in Byrd Stadium last season. Now they want revenge.
"They embarrassed us in our own backyard," quarterback Mike Tice said. "We're all still ticked off about it. Losing to them here just annoyed us to death.
"It's a cliche, I know, but let me tell you this is going to be one of those knock-down, drag-out games. There's gonna be a lot of sore bodies Sunday morning."
Clemson is healthy, while the Terrapins still are reeling from the loss of their top two defensive players, back Lloyd Burruss (broken leg) and guard Marlin Van Horn (knee).
"When you lose two guys like that, at first anyway, it's a real shock," said linebacker Brian Matera, one of three starting seniors left on defense."I'm not sure there's anything we can do extra, but we have to remind ourselves not to stop in our tracks because of it. We have to keep together."
It was Matera who called the defense together early in the second half Saturday with the Terps trailing Villanova, 17-10, to "try to tell the young guys to keep their heads up," as he put it. "I'm a linebacker, which is sort of like the defensive quarterback, and I'm a senior. So I have a responsibility to help out the young guys, especially in a down period like that."
"Brian just said, 'Hey, we're due to get lucky soon if we hang in,'" remembered Sammy Johnson, who filled in well for Burruss with 11 tackles. "That's what we're all doing now, hanging in."
The Terps will have to do more than just hang in against Clemson and they know it. The Tigers have the nation's longest major college winning streak (11 games) and playing in Memorial Stadium -- "Death Valley" -- they are even tougher.
"Their fans go so crazy; if they could find pads they'd be out on the field, too," Gall said.
Most of the defensive players insisted yesterday that the mental adjustment to the loss of Burruss and Van Horn was behind them. Johnson has proven he can fill in for Burruss. Mike Corvino will replace Van Horn.
"It's easy for me to say that I have a lot of faith in the replacements, but it happens to be true," defensive coordinator John Devlin said. "Sammy's got the potential to be as good as Burruss. All he lacks is experience. Corvino and Greg Vanderhout (the other defensive guard) were very close all through fall. In effect, Vanderhout is Van Horn's replacement. Already he's trying to take more of a leadership role in practice."
But Devlin admits there is an added problem this week.
"Clemson is the conference champion," he said. "We've been there three times so we know, conference champions don't die easy. There's something different about it. Keeping it somehow gets you up sometimes more than going after it."
The feeling in the Maryland locker room yesterday was something akin to a pot coming slowly to a boil, as players stopped in the hall to read Clemson's press clippings and talked quietly about Saturday.
"It's Clemson and it's Death Valley, that should be enough to get any team ready," said defensive back Steve Trimble. "We know we've had a lot of adversity already this season on defense, but so far everyone's come through."