Two weeks into the 1980 football season it is impossible for Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne even to begin to pass judgement on his ninth Terrapin team.
Just as the weak 7-3 victory over Villanova two Saturdays ago gave rise to some premature pessimism, optimism over Saturday's 31-6 triumph over Vanderbilt should be tempered -- the Commodores simply can't play football very well.
But there is one area -- the offensive line -- where Claiborne is beginning to get some encouraging answers to questions he had before the season began.
With four of the five starters graduated, Claiborne was concerned about going into the season with inexperience up front. So far, he has had nothing to worry about.
"They're doing a good job," Claiborne said yesterday after watching film of the Vanderbilt game. "Not only are they opening up holes for the running game, they're also doing a good job pass-blocking."
The latter may be crucial in the next four weeks, starting with Saturday's game at Morgantown against 2-0 West Virginia. Last year's line, superb at blocking for the run, had its troubles when asked to protect the quarterback Mike Tice in the pocket. This year's group -- not as experienced, not as publicized -- may give Tice the time he needs to be an effective passer.
"Right now I feel like I sit back there forever," Tice said. "They've just been forming a wall around me and I sit back there and pick out my receiver. It's been great."
Scott Fanz, who with center Kyle Lorton represented virtually all the experience the line had coming into the season, thinks the preseason uncertainty has helped the line to jell.
"We knew last year's guys had gotten a lot of publicity and that we were just a bunch of no-names," Fanz said. "We've all worked together and stuck very close together. Everyone's been trying to help everyone else out. We've worked real hard because we know if we don't we won't get the job done."
The linemen have taken to gathering in a dorm room on nights during the week to look at film together. Last week they gathered in Tice's room for a two-hour session , pointing out mistakes to one another, trading advice.
"They play as if they're tied together on a string," Tice said. "If one guy moves left, everyone moves left. Ehey're helping each other on blocks in practice and in the games, too."
Wingback Jan Carinci, one to the team's best blockers, summed up the line's early success. "They've got two things going for them," he said. "They're all incredibly strong because they've worked so hard with the weights and they're all a little bit crazy."
Yesterday, Claiborne singled out sophomore Dave Pacella for praise but said he was pleased with the play of the line in general. Another lineman who made Claiborne particularly happy Saturday was tight end Eric Sievers, who caught three passes, blocked well and looked like the Sievers of 1978 before injuries ruined his 1979 season and made the early part of 1980 difficult.
"It was a good day for us in most areas," Claiborne said. "Tice showed improvement. He needs to release his passes just a little quicker, but it's coming. Charlie Wysocki ran really well and the kicking game was excellent." c
Tice's two touchdown passes Saturday equaled one third of the team's output last season . . . The Terps have given up nine points in two games and six of the points have been set up by Maryland funbles . . . Marlyand came out of the Vanderbilt game unscratched. Only defensive guard Marlin Van Horn, who watched the game in street clothes because of a sprained ankle, is questionable for West Virginia . . . Wysocki has rushed 318 yards on 62 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per carry.