Maryland quarterback Mike Tice, who has a knack for putting football games in perspective, said it best for the Terrapins yesterday.
"It still ain't perfect," the 6-foot-7-senior said, "but it was a lot better today than last week."
True. The Terps routed Vanderbilt, 31-6, in front of 27,150 at Byrd Stadium. Vanderbilt is not a good football team but neither is Villanova and the Terps had to struggle for 60 minutes last week to escape with a 7-3 victory in their season opener. Yesterday, Maryland did what good football teams are supposed to do against weak opponents: it dominated every phase of the game.
"We knew early on that we could move the ball up and down the field on them," said tight end Eric Sievers. "Once we eliminated the early mistakes, it was a good day for us. The kind of day we needed. Everyone was loose in the fourth quarter because we knew we didn't have to worry like against Villanova when it was 7-3 the whole time."
As always, the dominant man in the Maryland offense was tailback Charlie Wysocki. The stocky junior made Vanderbilt tacklers look like paper mache dummies, rushing for 144 yards on 26 carries in less than three quarters. When Coach Jerry Claiborne decided Wysocki had done enough, Wayne Wingfield came on to pick up 56 yards on 12 carries.
And then there was the passing game. Tice's statistics will not bring pro scouts scurrying to Morgantown, W.Va., for the Maryland-West Virginia game Saturday, but they were deceiving. In all, Tice completed five of 11 passes for 111 yards. But two of the five completions were for touchdowns (one to Mike Lewis, another to Sievers) another -- to his brother, John -- went for 33 yards and the other two were nice tight-end delays to Sievers.
"Mike was just inches away from having a truly outstanding game," said Claiborne. "He made a couple of big plays for us and just missed a couple of others."
The biggest play of the game -- if there can be a big play in a romp such as this one -- was made by defensive back/kick returner Sammy Johnson.
Johnson, a soft-spoken senior, wore goat horns early in the second quarter when he fumbled a punt to set up Vanderbilt's first field goal.
"I was burning after that play," Johnson said. "I was so angry at myself I almost lost my cool. I kept telling myself I had to come up with a big play to make up for it."
After Vandy's Mike Woodard had kicked his second field goal with 2:47 left in the half to close the gap to 14-6, Johnson got his chance. He fielded Woodard's kickoff on the one and took off down the right sideline.
His blockers got him to midfield untouched, then Johnson faked Woodard halfway back to Nashville and seemed to be home free. "But I looked back," he lamented. "I thought I was there."
Instead, Keith Edwards dragged him down on the two and Johnson had to settle for a 97-yard runback, the longest nonscoring return in Maryland history. Wingfield took care of the last two yards with a leap that might put him in contention for the 1984 Olympic diving team.
"That kickoff return was the big play of the game," said Vanderbilt Coach George MacIntyre. "It turned the game right around."
Claiborne basically agreed. "Getting seven points so quickly like that right before the half was a big boost," he said.
The Terps didn't look like they needed any kind of boost at all in the early going. They took the opening kickoff and promptly marched from their 29 to a fourth and two at the Vanderbilt 22. The offensive line was blowing the Commodores off the line so easily that Claiborne, who almost never goes for fourth and one, much less fourth and two, never hesitated.
"I didn't even look over to the bench," Tice said. "We were blowing off the ball so well I just knew coach would go for it."
Wysocki got three and a couple of plays later picked up another first down at the seven. But on the ensuing play, fullback Rick Fassano was hit almost before he could take Tice's handoff and fumbled. So, Vanderbilt got a break.
"Our only mistake on that drive was that we didn't keep going to Charlie," Claiborne said. "As long as teams keep jamming inside on us, we should run outside with the tailbacks."
The fumble merely delayed the inevitable. On the Terps' next series, facing third and six at the Vanderbilt 46, Tice went deep for Mike Lewis. The pass was a bit short, but Lewis came back and made the catch. He ducked the tackle of Mark Matthews and tip-toed down the sideline for a 7-0 Maryland lead with 3:48 left in the quarter.
Johnson's fumble allowed Vandy to close to within 7-3 but the Terps came right back and marched 34 yards -- after a Dale Castro punt had pinned Vandy on its two -- with Wysocki going over from the seven to make it 14-3 with 8:42 left in the half.
The Commodores then put together their one real drive, moving from their 20 to the Maryland six before the defense -- which has not given up a touchdown this season -- forced Woodard to come on for a 22-yard field goal. The next kickoff produced Johnson's return and the second half was basically a chance for Claiborne to give his substitutes some playing time.
"The area we improved in most was the kicking game," Claiborne said. "Last week it was terrible. This week it was good." Castro made his only field goal attempt from 37 yards after two uncharacteristic misses last week. He punted four times for a 35-yard average, twice pinning Vanderbilt inside its 10. Returners Johnson, Steve Trimble and Lloyd Burruss all had outstanding plays.
The offensive line, a question mark prior to the season because of its inexperience, controlled the Commodores. "Last week I think a lot of us were nervous," said Scott Fanz, veteran of the unit. "A lot of guys had never even hit a guy from another team. Today, we were ready. It showed."
"The blocking today, passing and running, was fantastic," Tice said. "We eliminated last week's penalties. The defense was the defense; what more can I say about them? It was just a good day for the whole team."
Not perfect, but improving.