It is crisis week at Maryland.
"This is our last shot at a ranked team," quarterback Mike Tice said yesterday. "We need this game badly."
Coach Jerry Claiborne set the tense tone for Penn State week on Monday when he worked the team out in pads, the second time in six seasons that the Terps have worked in full gear on a Monday during the season.
"I was very disappointed in our performance at Pittsburgh," Claiborne said yesterday. "We can't go and play against Penn State like we played against Pittsburgh. We better play better, because if we don't, it will be another embarrassing afternoon."
The 38-9 loss of Pitt humiliated the Terrapin seniors enough to prompt a team meeting without coaches on Saturday night upon the team's return from Pittsburgh. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes and, according to several players, was a frank exchange, a noholds-barred forum on the team's decisive losses to North Carolina and Pittsburgh.
Traditionally, Penn State week is one of shattered nerves at Maryland. Whether Claiborne, 0-7 against Coach Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions, likes it or not, his team -- in fact, the entire school -- has Penn State complex.
"Every year we want to beat them so bad that the first time something goes wrong we panic," said one starter. "So many of out guys dreamed about playing Penn State (25 members of the team are from Pennsylvania) that they think the season rises or falls on this one game."
That is exactly the kind of thinking Claiborne wants to avoid. Still, the atmosphere yesterday was tight.
"We need to loosen up," said senior defensive end Brad Senft. "Everyone is walking around tight, wound up. We need to get loose and get ready to play football."
Penn State, which has beaten Maryland in 24 of 25 meetings, will come here with a 3-1 record and a ranking of 14th, coming off an impressive 29-21 victory Saturday over ninth-ranked Missouri.
A year ago, after back-to-back losses, the Lions came here looking ripe for declawing. Instead, Maryland fumbled twice in the first quarter and Penn State ran off to a 27-7 victory.
The Terps also collapsed after falling behind against Pitt.
"We know we can't afford the early mistake," Tice said. "We can't afford to get into a situation where everyone starts thinking, 'Oh, no, it's going to be one of those days again.' We need a good solid start."
Even Claiborne, seldom critical of his team in public, said he had never seen one of his teams get as down mentally and emotionally as the Terps did in Pittsburgh. "But I take blame for that," he said. "I shouldn't have let it happen."
Maryland must restore its ground game. The Terps have been held to less than 100 yards rushing each of the last two weeks with tailback Charlie Wysocki -- averaging 157 yards a game in Maryland's three triumphs -- held to 56 yards.
"We're just not blocking as well as we can," Claiborne said. "We have to do a better job on the offensive line and give Charlie some room to run.
"But we're not panicking. This is an important game because it's the sixth game on our schedule, not for any other reason."
Perhaps. But with five ACC opponents remaining after this week, Claiborne and his players know that this is not only their one chance in a season against Penn State, but their last chance to make any of the dreams of August come true.
"I'm not going to say this game is bigger than any other," Tice said. "I've made a big deal of it the last two years and gotten burned as a result. I'm not going to make that mistake this year. I'm not going to put any more pressure on this team than there already is."
Several Terps were hobbling yesterday with injuries that should not prevent them from playing Saturday. Defensive back Sammy Johnson and offensive guard Bob Pacella have ankle injuries. Tod Benson, Kyle Lorton, Greg Vandrhout and Senft all have hip pointers. All are questionable now.
Senior defensive end Pete Glamp underwent an orthoscope exam of his knee yesterday and will not need surgery. He may return in two weeks.
The last 500 tickets go on sale at Cole Field House this morning.