Charley Pell, Florida's football coach, was talking today about why his team is so delighted to be playing Maryland in Saturday's 35th Tangerine Bowl (WDCA-TV-20, 8 p.m.).
"For us," Pell said, "this is another chance."
For both teams, this game is another chance. They have taken a similar path to this game: beating mediocre opposition consistently, losing to top 20 opponents just as consistently. The Gators (7-4) lost to LSU, Florida State, Georgia and Miami. The Terps (8-3) were beaten by North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Penn State. All but LSU are in the top 20. Florida's early triumph over Mississippi State was the only victory either team had over a ranked opponent.
"The biggest thing right now is trying to get everybody back down to earth after the week we've had down here," Maryland Coach Jerry Claiborne said today. "We've worked hard in practice and we've had a real good time down here in the afternoons."
Both teams have been wined and dined all week but the last 48 hours will be devoted strictly to football. Claiborne's team, on a five-game winning streak, wants this game to assure a spot in the top 20 for the first time in four seasons. Florida would like a victory to cap one of the great turnaround seasons in NCAA history: going from 0-10-1 to a bowl bid.
Maryland is a slight favorite because of experience and its winning streak. Pell has spent all week telling people that the Terps compare favorably with top-ranked Georgia and No. 2 Florida State, especially on defense.
"Their defense right now is as good as the one they had in 1976 when they went to the Cotton Bowl," Pell said. "People talk about our multiple offense; they have a multiple defense. They have more looks out of their eight-man front than we have plays."
"They've just got a bunch of real fine players," Claiborne said. "I rode on a fire truck with their quarterback, Wayne Peace, the other day and he's a real sharp young man. I think he'll handle himself well against our defense."
Peace, a freshman, will face a veteran defense that has given up only seven points in the last 15 quarters, and that score was set up by a fumble at the Maryland 25. Saturday's game will be the finale for 21 Maryland seniors, 17 of them fifth-year men, making them about as experienced as any team in the country. They are also supremely confident.
"We know they'll try to unbalance us with their running game," said defensive tackle Ed Gall, one of the fifth-year Terps. "We think our defense will contain their passer pretty well and we won't have much problem with their multiple looks."
Those multiple looks were incorporated into the Gator offense this year by offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. The result was an increase from 250 to 310 yards a game total offense, a significant jump in the college game.
Florida's main threats are all-America flanker Cris Collinsworth, who caught 40 passes for 599 yards during the season, and wide receiver Tyrone Young, who missed the first four games because of disciplinary reasons but came on to catch 24 passes for 468 yards. He is 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds and is a legitimate deep threat.
"Their passing game is similar to Pittsburgh's," Claiborne said, thinking back on Maryland's 38-9 loss at Pitt. "And we didn't do a very good job defending it."
Still, Florida's defense is nothing like Pittsburgh's. The Gators gave up more than 200 yards a game, including 173 yards per contest on the ground. That means tailback Charlie Wysocki will probably see the ball at least 35 times for the Terps and should have his ninth 100-yard game of the season before the night is over.
"About the only way to stop him," said Florida nose guard Robin Fisher, "is to get 11 hats around him the minute he touches the ball."
The Gators would like a wide-open game, with lots of scoring and the ball in the air frequently. The Terps would like a consecutive, ball-control game so their defense and kicking game can be decisive. That is the way they win.
Both coaches emphasized today that they are already proud of what their teams have accomplished. They talked about the toughness of their squads, their ability to bounce back from adversity. Still, even though it was virtually left unsaid, the bottom line for both teams is the same.
This game is another chance. A final chance for 1980.
Defensive back Ivory Curry has a bruised arm muscle and is out for Florida. Backup tight end Bill Pugh is out for Maryland with a separated shoulder and John Tice is questionable with a bruised shoulder.