For Maryland football Coach Jerry Claiborne, the week before Penn State week is usually the toughest of the season. Each year since he came to Maryland, he has faced one week when he had had the task of keeping his players' minds on the next opponent when he knows they are all thinking about Penn State.
That has not been a problem this week because Maryland plays Pittsburgh here Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Pitt Stadium. The Terrapins can thank former Athletic Director Carl James, who dropped a game against Tulane in favor of Pitt.
If the Terps' minds wander, they are likely to be pounded into AstroTurf soup by the sixth-ranked Panthers. Concentration should not be a problem.
"This could be the biggest week of the season for us," said tailback Charlie Wysocki. "We lost a big game last week (to North Carolina) but now we have a chance to bounce right back and prove ourselves by beating a Top Ten team."
The Terps (3-1) will have to beat Pitt (3-0) at its own game. These teams are similar in that they play fierce defense but have question marks offensively. Both are almost impossible to run on with any consistency, especially Pittsburgh, which ranks second in total [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] The Mids (2-1) have given up only 15 points thus far this season but will be severely tested at 2 p.m. in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium when they host Boston College.
The Eagles (1-2) are huge up front on both sides of the ball, especially offensively, and were good enough to rout Stanford, 30-13, two weeks ago just prior to the Cardinals' win over Oklahoma. The Mids will miss defensive end Doug Donatelli, who underwent surgery Monday.
The team that beat Navy in the season opener, Virginia (2-1), will have to play much against Duke if it is to raise its record to 3-1.
The Caviliers, trailing hapless Duke, 17-0, were lucky to escape with a 20-17 victory and cannot expect a similar miracle at West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 3-1, their only loss being a well-played, 14-11 defeat at the hands of Maryland two weeks ago.
If the Cavs are to prevail, they will have to be much more consistent on offense. Their defense also will face its toughest test of the season in WVU quarterback Oliver Luck and his excellent corps of receivers.
Howard's defense also will face a major test when the Bison (1-1-1) play Florida A&M (1-2) in the Gator Bowl at 1:30 p.m. Coach Floyd Keith's team acquitted itself well in a 30-17 loss at South Carolina State last week. If they can maintain that same level of play, the Bison could pull off an upset.
Other local games Saturday include Georgetown (1-0) playing at Duquesne (1-2), Catholic (2-0) traveling to Salisbury State (3-1), Morgan State (2-2) playin at Bowie State (0-4) and UDC (1-2) facing Knoxville College (0-2) at Dunbar High School at 1:30.
The Maryland-Pittsburgh outcome may hinge on the play of the two quarterbacks since neither team is likely to move the ball on the ground with any consistency. Maryland's Mike Tice had an excellent day statistically against UNC, completing 14 of 22 passes for 179 yards, but the Terps still only scored three points. They will need more Saturday.
Pitt quarterback Dan Marino already has the star label on him as a sophomore. At 6 feet, he has the size, and he proved last year that he also has ability, leading the 11-1 Panthers throughout the second half of the season.
But Marino, who grew up within walking distance of the Pitt campus in the Oakland section of the city, sprained a knee last Saturday against Temple. He has practiced since Wednesday and will start. How mobile he will be remains to be seen.
He has been throwing an average of 30 passes a game, a figure Coach Jackie Sherrill has been criticized for here, the theory being that national championships are won on the ground not in the air.
"Ideally, we'd like to run about 55 times and throw about 30 in a given game," Sherrill said, "But you can't go in with a rigid plan to only throw so many times."
Few coaches, Claiborne included, will admit to planning 30 passes prior to a game. Claiborne is very much a member of the throw-only-as-a-last-resort school. But with the Pitt defense anchored by a super defensive end, Hugh Green, and counterpart Ricky Jackson, who would be a star on any team but Itt, the Terps probably will leave to begin throwing early if they are going to move the ball.
Last week against UNC, offensive ineptitude and Wysocki's three fumbles put the ball in Carolina's hands for 18 of 67 snaps the first half. Maryland cannot afford anything even close to that if it is to have any chance of pulling an upset.
Pitt has won 13 games in a row over the last two seasons. Like Maryland, the Panthers viewed the first three weeks of the season as something of a warmup. Maryland is Pittsburgh's first serious challenge and the first game in a span that will include contests with Florida State, West Virginia and Tennessee.
"They could be the toughest of the lot for us," Sherrill insisted. "They're strong and they're so solid. They aren't going to try anything fancy, we know that, but we don't expect them to make mistakes, either.
"Even last week when they made mistakes, they were in it until the end. They're never out of a ball game."
Claiborne blamed last week's slew of mistakes on concentration problems. He could not explain why his team had trouble concentrating in a game against its conference arch-rival.
Claiborne hopes those problems are solved by kickoff Saturday. "We won't have any trouble getting ready for this one," he said early in the week. For once, the week before Penn State week, he meant it.
Pitt's best linebacker, Steve Fedell, has had the flu all week and will not play Saturday. All-East offensive guard Mark May and tight end Benjie Pryor, out last week, are ready . . . One of the sideline photographers Saturday will be Willie Stargell. The baseball star is an avid Pitt fan, a close friend of Sherill's and a friend of many members of the Pitt team. . . Hugh Green, who may be the strongest lineman in the country, almost never lifts weights. "My strength is natural," he said, not boasting . . . Dan Cavanaugh, younger brother of Matt, the quarterback on the 1976 national champions here, is a freshman quarterback on the 1980 team.