One by one they came through the door. One by one they heard the news. One by one they reacted -- laughing, cheering or saying simply, "I don't believe it."

On the seventh Monday of his ninth season as Maryland football coach, Jerry Claiborne told his players to rest. No practice, just meetings and film work. This, just seven days after he had practiced his beleaguered players in pads on a Monday because they had played so poorly against Pittsburgh.

"We've had three tough, physical football games in a row," Claiborne said. "I thought it would be good to give them another 24 hours to rest their bodies before we start getting ready for Wake Forest."

Then, without being asked, Claiborne added, "I can assure you that we're not taking the day off because we're taking Wake Forest lightly."

The Terps cannot afford to take anyone lightly. They lost all three of those tough, physical, games after winning their first three of the season.With five games remaining against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, they could still salvage an 8-3 record and earn a minor bowl bid. But with his team sore, mentally and physically, following Saturday's 24-10 loss to Penn State, Claiborne decided it was time to do something unusual.

"It's fine with me," said fullback Rick Fasano, who played almost every play Saturday after Jeff Rodenberger went out with a pinched nerve in his neck.

Fasano apparently will have to get used to going a long way the rest of the season. Team physician Stanford Lavine will look at Redenberge again next week, but the fullback is probably out for the season. He still had pain in his left arm yesterday. This is the second time this season Rodenberger has suffered a pinched nerve and Lavine is not likely to risk further injury by letting him play again this fall.

With practice called off yesterday, Claiborne and his coaches had a little more time to look for ways to salvage what has turned into a disappointing season.

Going into the season, the Terps knew that the three games against North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Penn State would be pivotal. Now hopes for a major bowl bid have been dashed, and an ACC championship is all but impossible. Someone might upset North Carolina, but the Tar Heels (5-0) have looked unbeatable so far.

With five ACC games left, Maryland must find a way to eliminate mistakes. Penalties have hurt the team consistently, often coming at critical times.

Wake Forest is not Penn State, but the Deacons (3-2) beat Maryland, 25-17, a year ago. Many of their key players are back, including quarterback Jay Venuto, last year's ACC player of the year.

"We really have to stick together now," said wingback Jan Carinci. "The season isn't lost by any means if we keep together and keep playing hard. If we're good enough to play with Penn State we should be good enough to play with anybody."

At this stage one more loss would virtually end the season for the Terps; they are unlikely to get a bowl bid with four defeats -- they were 7-4 last year and uninvited -- and would be eliminated from ACC contention.

Although Maryland's record is the same as it was a year ago, this team appears to be in better spirits. Last year, injuries had decimated the team. This year, other than Rodenberge's pinched nerve, most of the injuries are minor nicks, bumps and bruises.

Quarterback Mike Tice, benched at this time last year, is playing better each week and is clearly No. 1. What's more, he and Claiborne are getting along much better than a year ago.

And, while the defense was burned by Pittsburgh and Penn State, Claiborne knows that the opponents coming up are not of the same caliber, although Venuto is definitely a threat.

But that was for the coach to worry about yesterday. His team just enjoyed the unusual respite. "Incredible," said one of the team's managers. "Just when you think you have this place completely figured out, they pull something new out of a hat."

Apparently, Claiborne is hoping that this week's Monday Surprise will put some magic back into a program that has lost its chance to pull any rabbits out of its hat in 1980.