This was the week and the year that things were going to be different between Maryland and Penn State. The players were different. The approach was different. The Maryland game plan was supposed to be different.
But in the end, it was all the same.
Penn State destroyed the Terrapins, 27-7, in front of 52,348 yesterday in Byrd Stadium. The Lions did it the same way they seem to every season, by capitalizing on Maryland mistakes early and never letting the Terps get back into the game.
"It's the same thing every year," said Maryland wingback Jan Carinci. "We just seem to give them all the breaks they need. They don't beat us, we do it for them. Those early mistakes are terribly deflating."
The most deflating mistake for the Terrapins (3-2) yesterday came less than two minutes into the game. Maryland had held the Lions (2-2) on the opening series after the kickoff and Terp freshman Mike Lewis dropped back to return Ralph Giacomarro's punt.
"I wasn't tight or anything," Lewis said later."I was fired up to play these guys. I saw some daylight after I caught the ball. Then somebody's helmet hit the ball and it popped loose."
The helmet belonged to Penn State's Grover Edwards and seconds later the loose ball was recovered by another Lion, Matt Bradley, on the Maryland 13.
Before anyone in the stadium could say "deja vu," fullback Matt Suhey was in the end zone and it was 7-0, Penn State.
"That was the biggest play of the game, that fumble," Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said. "You just can't give the ball to a team like Penn State that deep, that early and that often and expect to win."
For the defense, which had charged off the field jumping and pounding one another after stopping the first Penn State drive, it was particularly deflating.
"We went out there psyched up and did our jobs, stuffed them for three plays," said defensive end Pete Glamo. "You could almost see the Penn State players saying, "This isn't going to be any cakewalk.'
"Then the fumble. It's such a big letdown. It just takes a helluva lot out of you."
Or, as linebacker Brian Matera put it, "It always seems like they jump on us early and then it's all downhill from there."
Even though he had worked extremely hard in practice on the passing game and had put in several new patterns designed to offset Penn State's pass rush, Claiborne was conservative early.
The first series of downs was identical to those attempted a week ago against Kentucky: sweep, sweep, dive, punt. One pass was called the next series (quarterback Mike Tice was sacked) and tailback Charlie Wysocki carried all three plays on the third Maryland possession.
None of the Maryland players was about to publicly criticize Claiborne's play-calling, but several said they were disappointed the offense was not opened up earlier.
After Maryland's third punt, Penn State quarterback Dayle Tate, a 1976 Robert E. Lee High (Springfield, Va.,) graduate, moved his team from his 38 to the Maryland 17. The big play was a 23-yard pass over the middle to a wide-open Curt Warner. The superfreshman had a pulled hamstring and played only about a quarter, but was devastating.
When the drive died, Lion kicker Herb Menhardt booted a 36-yard, dying-quail field goal for a 10-0 lead. With the deficit building, the Terps went to the air.
On the first play of the next series, Tice ducked two tacklers and found Gary Ellis open for a 30-yard gain to the Penn State 40 as the first quarter ended. That turned out to be one of three passes Tice completed (he was three for 20) and was the only Terp first down of the first half.
The drive died quickly and Maryland did not see Penn State territory again until late in the third quarter.
"If we had been able to finish off that drive we might have gotten it going," said Tice, perhaps the most disconsolate Terrapin of them all. "The defense played great but I didn't do my job. Blame me. The quarterback has to take responsibility when you lose.
"I have yet to see a Maryland team play well against Penn State," Tice continued, a reference to Maryland's 1-24 record and 17 straight losses against the Lions. "Maybe we make too big a deal of it or we try too damm hard. But we don't play Maryland football."
Maryland football is not supposed to include seven turnovers, four on fumbles and three on interceptions. If Lewis's fumble put Maryland in a hole early, Tice's second-quarter fumble buried them.
Maryland had taken over on its eight after Sammy Johnson made the mistake of fielding a punt on the four-yard line. Two plays later, on third and six, Tice rolled out, was hit by Matt Millen, playing defensive end in Paterno's realigned defensive line, and fumbled. Larry Kubin, who probably will have to pay his residency taxes from the Maryland backfield next April recovered on the two.
Two plays later, Booker Moore dove in from the one and, with 9:55 left in the second quarter, it was 17-0 and the gorgeous, breezy fall day had suddenly soured for Claiborne and company.
"Maryland is a much better football team than that," Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. "You know we haven't exactly been killing people. We were a better football team than Maryland today. Our defense was just too strong for them."
The statistics bear out Paterno. His club finished with 318 yards to 153 for Maryland. Much of Maryland's gains came in the closing minutes when wecond-string quarterback Bob Milkovich drove the team 55 yards for his team's only score, the touchdown coming on a 24-yard heaven-help-us completion to Lewis.
By then the issue had been decided. Maryland's last-gasp chance had come on the opening series of the second half. A reverse by Carinci, two carries by Wysocki and a 13-yard completion, Tice to Carinci, had moved Maryland from its 20 to its 46.
But then, trying another reverse, Lewis fumbled the handoff from Wysocki after Bruce Clark had hit everything in red and white inside the county line. He also stripped the Terps of the ball. Lance Mehl recovered on the Maryland 38. Six plays later -- the key play a 30-yard Suhney run to the one -- Moore dove over again and it was 24-0.
"We came out of the locker room still fired up," said Tice. "We were moving, then bang! Another fumble. After that you could see everybody dying a little on every play."
The last play of the third quarter and the first of the fourth summed up the day best. The first call was a fleaflicker. Wysocki took the ball from Tice, handed to Carinci, who flipped back to Tice. Ellis broke deep and was wide open. But before Tice could pass he was flattened by Kubin.
"They made those plays and we didn't," Tice said. "That was the story."
On the next play, Tice overthrew Carinci and the ball landed in Claiborne's arms. The coach might as well have turned around and walked away with it.