Jerry Claiborne, Maryland's football coach, has been talking all week about the size and strength of Mississippi State, his team's opponent at 1:30 p.m. today in Byrd Stadium.
He also has pointed out that State's execution of the wishbone offense in a season-opening 14-13 loss to Memphis State two weeks ago was good enough that "Memphis State completely lost sight of the ball a few times. They executed real well."
Not so, said Mississippi State Coach Emory Bellard, the inventor of the wishbone while an assistant at Texas. Bellard is in his first year as coach at the Starkville, Miss., school.
"We're still hand-feeding these fellas," Bellard said. "Got to crawl before you walk and we're still in the crawlin' stage."
Bellard has one major problem -- quarterback. He started junior Dwayne Brown against Memphis State but Brown had little success. Today he will try another junior, Tony Black, a transfer from SMU who had been running with the third team. Maryland's opportunistic defense may be able to take advantage of Black's inexperience.
But on the other side of the line, the Bulldogs have a huge defense. Even with All-SEC linebacker Johnie Cookes out for the season with a knee injury, they are strong and experienced in most positions.
"We're just hoping we can come up there and make it a respectable football game," said Bellard in typical football coaches' poor-mouth-your-own-team style. "I know Jerry's club will be ready to play."
Claiborne's club looks like a M.A.S.H. unit these days with five starters out -- Lloyd Burruss, Marlin Van Horn, Eric Sievers, John Baldante and Steve Trimble. The first three could be lost for the season. The Terps are 2-0 going in and still savoring their 19-0 whipping of Clemson a week ago in "Death Valley."
Navy should have little trouble raising its mark to 2-0 when it hosts Connecticut at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium at 2 p.m.
The Mids routed U-Conn a year ago, 30-0, in Storrs, Conn. This time, the Huskies are hurting defensively after a 26-10 loss to Army last week. Injuries and a decision to move starting safety Rusty Umbarger to a backup quarterback slot means the visitors will have five new defensive starters.
Navy is healthy, with offensive tackle Jerome Barker the only starter to miss last week's 26-7 win over Citadel. Barker is expected to be available for duty.
Coach George Welsh will continue to alternate four running backs, fullbacks Larry Klawinski and Kevin Tolbert and tailbacks Mike Sherlock and Steve Callahan. Sherlock rushed for 125 yards last week.
Two intrastate matchups are on tap in Virginia with UVA hosting Virginia Military and William and Mary traveling to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech.
Virginia (1-1) is looking to break a three-game losing steak against VMI. Cavalier Coach Dick Bestwick, who worked with VMI Coach Bob Thallman at Georgia Tech in the 1960s, is 0-3 against his old friend.
Virginia Tech, 2-0 for the first time since 1967, has to be wary of William and Mary. The Indians still are upset about losing, 22-19, last season on a 50-yard pass play on the last snap of the game.
Georgetown and Catholic both open their seasons today. Catholic is home at 1:30 p.m. against 1-1 Salisbury State and Georgetown is on the road facing St. Francis, Pa.
Catholic had 34 lettermen back from a 7-3 club last season, but leading rusher and scorer Sam Lofaro is out with three broken ribs and split end Mike Stotz has a broken collarbone.
Georgetown, 7-1 a year ago and ranked seventh in the East, must adjust to the loss of quarterback Bob Sitz, who broke every GU passing and total offense record last season. Sophomore Bob Gerard, who threw eight passes last season, is the new signal caller.
The University of District of Columbia (1-1) is on the road today against Niagara. The Firebirds evened their record last week with a 21-0 win over Gallaudet. Gallaudet (0-1) tries to bounce back, hosting UNC-Wilmington at 1:30 p.m. Struggling James Madison (0-3) is at home tonight against Hampden-Sydney.
Maryland is hoping for a crowd of 40,000 today if the rain holds off as it faces Mississippi State for the first time. The MSU program has been plagued in recent years by NCAA probation and the forfeit four years ago of 19 games because of recruiting violations.
Now, the school is trying to give itself a new image with the 51-year-old Bellard at the helm. Bellard with the wishbone as the key, turned Texas A&M from a perennial loser into a winner in the early '70s. Even though the Bulldogs have been respectable recently -- 6-5 last year -- Bellard looks upon his job as a rebuilding one.
"Our kids are waking up in a new world every morning," said Bellard. "We made progress the last two weeks. Having the open date helped us because we've had more time to work on our execution."
Maryland already has faced one wishbone this year -- Villanova's -- and handled it most of the day with little problem. But as Claiborne pointed out, MSU'S personnel are quite different from Villanova's.
If Black can throw effectively, Mardye McDole is one of the country's best split receivers.Last year, he caught 52 passes for 1,035 yards. Against Memphis State, he was the target of passes 11 times but only caught two -- both screens -- for 24 yards. The Bulldogs also have two good runners in fullback Fred Collins and halfback Len Copeland. Their defensive front four averages 250 pounds.
If Maryland's offensive line can block as effectively today as it did the first two weeks, when tailback Charlie Wysocki ran for a total of 339 yards, the Terps should give Claiborne a coveted win over an SEC opponent and a 3-0 record.