Maryland finally found a cure for its losing streak today: the Duke football team.
From the start it was clear the Blue Devils could not keep up with the Terapins as the visitors, led by a reborn Mike Tice at quarterback, rolled to a ridiculously easy 27-0 win.
"We could have scored a lot more but we made some mistakes," said Maryland wingback Jan Carinci. "We played much better today, but they're pretty bad."
"Awful" was the word several Maryland players whispered after laughing their way to a 4-4 record, 2-2 in the ACC.Duke is 2-4-1 and last in the conference at 0-3.
Statistics often lie, but today they were an accurate measure of the difference between the teams. Maryland gained 449 yards, Duke had 91, including minus five rushing. Maryland had 25 first downs, Duke had eight -- most of them in the fourth quarter when the Terps played everyone but the cheerleaders.
"As far as I'm concerned this was just a total team loss," said Duke Coach Shirley (Red) Wilson, a master of the understatement. "Maryland's just a better football team than us. They whipped us."
Duke was dreadful, but there were some encouraging signs for Maryland, most notably the play of Tice at quarterback.
After starter Bob Milkovich had badly missed wide-open receivers and thrown interceptions twice in the first quarter, Coach Jerry Claiborne inserted Tice on Maryland's fourth possession of the game, with 5:30 left in the first quarter.
"Bobby had missed two guys wide open and he was upset with himself," Claiborne said. "I just thought it was time to give Mike a shot."
Tice, benched two weeks ago during the North Carolina State game, took full advantage. Starting on his 10, he took the Terps 90 yards in 17 plays, blocking on every sweep for tailbacks Wayne Wingfield and Tim Whittie, completing both passes he threw -- one a 28-yarder to Gary Ellis -- and capping the drive with a four-yard bootleg into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter.
"When I went in there I was thinking, 'Okay, just relax. Duke's not very good and if you just go out there and do your thing, you'll do fine,'" Tice said. "I was confident. I didn't feel any pressure.
"When I got benched, I didn't pout. I kept working and hoping I would get another chance. I wanted to be ready. When I got the chance, I was ready.
"I was incredibly psyched up. Every time we ran the sweep I turned to Timmie (Whittie) and told him to follow me. I just figured if I did nothing else I was going to throw some mean blocks."
Tice was not the only one blocking with a vengeance. The entire offensive line, which had played better last week against Wake Forest, was back to playing the bully, shoving Duke off the line of scrimmage play after play.
The blocking, the running of Wingfield (30 carries for 136 yards) and Whittie (25 for 104) made the absence for the second straight week of starting tailback Charlie Wysocki (injured thigh) barely noticeable.
It was the kind of afternoon Claiborne loves as he called the tailbacks' number 55 times and was able to hold out three defensive starters who could have played in an emergency.
On the rare occasions when Claiborne called pass, Tice was on the money, completing eight of 12 for 113 yards after Milkovich's one-for-five start.
"Both our tailbacks ran real hard, there was a lot of second effort," said Claiborne, displaying a victory smile not seen outside a Maryland dressing room in five weeks.
"We're still making mistakes though: missing receivers, dropping the ball, fumbling. We can't do that next week against North Carolina because they're just a stronger team than Duke." $ finding a team weaker than Duke would be difficult.
Against another opponent, four turnovers might have been fatal. Against the Blue Devils, they meant nothing as most of the crowd of 34,200 started leaving early to go watch the nationally ranked basketball team scrimmage.
"I don't want to say anything, but they just weren't as good as the other teams we've played," said linebacker Brian Matera. "I thought we played real well, though. We were hitting hard, we were confident. We just went out there to have fun."
And have fun they did, shutting out Duke for the second consecutive year by the same score. The last six times these teams have met, Maryland has outscored the Devils, 204-39.
Duke kept it closer for longer than usual today, largely because three of the four Maryland turnovers came in the first 20 minutes.
The first fumble fell short after the first Terp touchdown, when Wingfield dropped a pitch at the Duke 17. Two plays earlier, on fourth and a little more than one at the 25, Claiborne had shown his disdain for the Duke defense by going for the first down -- something he does about once every five years.
The Duke offense did nothing after the fumble and Maryland began another march from the Duke 48 halfway through the second quarter.
After Whittie had fumbled but was ruled down before the drop, Tice found Carinci for 18 yards to the Duke 30. He then passed to his brother, John, for 15 yards and Whittie blasted through the line twice, the second time from the three for his first varsity touchdown. That gave Maryland a 14-0 lead with 4:21 left in the half.
"Mike was a different quarterback today," said Carinci of the suddenly accurate Tice. "You could tell it in the huddle. Earlier in the year he'd come in and kind of mumble the play. Today, he was bellowing it. That helps everyone. He wasn't afraid to check off at the line.He just stepped in and did it."
If any among those still awake on the gorgeous fall afternoon were thinking about a Duke comeback, kick returner Steve Trimble and placekicker Dale Castro stifled those thoughts just before halftime.
With 27 seconds left in the half, Trimble took Ricky Brummitt's 45-yard punt on his 21, broke two tackles and ran 54 yards to the Duke 25. After two incomplete passes, Castro trotted onto the field and, automatic as always, kicked a 42-yard field goal with one second left in the half for a 17-0 Maryland lead.
Castro's second field goal late in the fourth quarter gave him 15 straight on the season, extending his NCAA single-season record for consecutive field goals and leaving him one short of the overall record of 16 held by Arkansas' Ish Ordonez.
"Dale's consistency with his placekicking has helped us out tremendously," Claiborne said.
Whittie's second touchdown -- he had carried only seven times before today -- gave the Terps their final touchddown the first time they touched the ball in the second half. The score ended a 12-play, 82-yard drive.
Thus, the first four-game losing streak in Claiborne's eight years at Maryland was halted and, with 46 seconds left in the game, the Maryland band cranked up its victory song, the Amen Chorus.
They could have played it much earlier.