Twenty-four hours before his football team faced Maryland today, Pittsburgh Coach Jackie Sherrill was lauding the Terrapin defense. "They're so tough," he said, "that they're never out of a game."
Sherrill was a false prophet. His Panthers pounded the Terps into submission, 38-9, in front of 47,409, turning a crisp, fall afternoon in Pitt Stadium into a nightmare for the visitors.
The win was the 14th in a row over two seasons for Pitt, 4-0 this season and likely to move up from sixth in the national polls this week. For Maryland (3-2), it was the third largest margin of defeat in Jerry Claiborne's nine seasons as coach.
"They just whipped us completely," Claiborne said. "I don't know if that was the worst pass defense we've ever played or if (Dan) marino's one of the best quarterbacks we've ever faced. They got an awful lot of yards on us."
Marino, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who grew up within walking distance of Pitt Stadium, was largely responsible for the humiliation.
Usually given enough time by his offensive linemen to sign autographs in the backfield, Marino picked apart the veteran Maryland secondary, completing 16 of 34 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the touchdowns came in the first quarter and put Maryland in a hole from which it never climbed out.
"He read (defenses) very well," said safety Ralph Lary. "When we were in a zone, he threw short; when we were in 'man' he threw deep. He was good and we made mistakes. That was the story."
That was half the story. The other half was the man-eating Pittsburgh defense, led by ends Hugh Green and Ricky Jackson, both of whom did reasonable imitations of superman all day. The Terps were held to 52 yards net rushing as Charlie Wysocki gained just 41 yards on 19 carries and quarterback Mike Tice was sacked five times.
On the rare occasions he had time to throw, Tice completed 12 of 26 for 133 yards, but he also threw his first interception of the season.
The first mistakes was made by the defense. Pitt had taken over at its 49 after Dale Castro's third punt of the first quarter. On first down, Marino took a straight drop, waited, and finally unloaded to freshman flanker Dwight Collins.
Collins was five yards behind the secondary when he caught the ball at the 10 and he walked into the end zone. Pitt had a 7-0 lead with 6:05 left in the first quarter.
A moment later, Tice goofed. On Maryland's first play after the kickoff he dropped back from his 20 to throw a screen to Wysocki. But all he saw when he looked up were blue and gold jerseys. He threw into the arms of Pitt linebacker Sal Sunseri, who made a diving catch at the Maryland 25.
Four plays later, from the 17, Marino found Willie Collier breaking behind Sammy Johnson at the seven. Collier, who finished the day with seven catches for 121 yards, was never touched until teammates mobbed him and, with 3:54 still left in quarter one, it was 14-0.
The prototype Pitt drive was the one that produced the third touchdown. Taking over on their 30, the Panthers drove 70 yards in eight plays, covering all but the last two yards in the air. Collier caught a pass for 23 yards, as had tight end Benjie Pryor, getting Pitt to the Maryland 14. A questionable pass interference call against Steve Trimble put the ball on the two.
Then fullback Randy McMillan made a leaping dive into the end zone, and with 10:32 left in the second quarter, it was 21-0.
The Terps have never been a good catch-up team and today was no exception. They managed to get a 38-yard field goal from Castro before halftime, thanks to Lloyd Burruss tipping a punt and Tice passing to brother John for a 24-yard gain to the Panther 27.
They still had a fighting chance in the third quarter. Pitt's Dave Trout kicked a 40-yard field goad to make it 24-3, but then John Tice recovered Thomas Flynn's fumble of a Castro punt at the Pittsburgh 21.
Wysocki got 10, his longest gain of the day. Two plays later Tice found Chris Havener (five catches for 66 yards) two steps into the end zone. Havener caught the ball, then was stripped of it by a Pitt defender. But the officials ruled that catch good and it was 24-9 with 2:09 left in the third quarter. The Terps went for a two-point conversion, but Tice overthrew Sievers, getting slammed as he threw.
The key play came six minutes into the fourth quarter. Marino had moved his team from its 36 to the Maryland 35. He dropped back looking again for Collins. Maryland defensive back Sam Medile was right with Collins, step for step. But Collins saw the ball a little sooner and cut just underneath Medile, catching the ball as he crossed the goal line. It was 31-9.
That play ended any suspense about the outcome. But the humiliation was not yet complete. On the ensuing kickoff Claiborne put receivers Jan Carinci, Mike Lewis and Spencer Scriber deep for a kickoff lateral -- a play that had worked for a touchdown two years ago.
It worked for a touchdown this time too, but not for Maryland. Carinci caught the kickoff eight yards deep and tried to come out of the end zone. He got the two-yard line and half the Pitt student body was waiting for him.
But as Carinci raised his arm, it was smacked. The ball rolled loose in the end zone and Pitt's Pat McQuaide fell on it for the final touchdown of the long afternoon.