Maryland's season opener against lowly Vanderbilt was supposed to be little more than a preseason scrimmage for the Terrapins. Only 200 Terp fans bought tickets. The school decided not to take its cheerleaders to Nashville.
But the combination of several Maryland mistakes and an aggressive Commodore passing attack led to victory for Vanderbilt, 23-17, Saturday night. Maryland's status as a 13-point favorite eroded as five Terrapin regulars left the field injured. A fourth-quarter lead disintegrated into Maryland's first opening-game defeat since Alabama defeated the Terrapins, 21-16, in 1974 at Byrd Stadium.
"Vanderbilt was definitely a different team (Maryland beat the Southeastern Conference also-ran, 31-6, last season) and I saw a lot of fans out there yelling for them," Terrapin tailback Charlie Wysocki reflected. "This is just great for them. I hope I see something like it at Maryland when we come home next week. I've never lost a first game here. Now, we have to start winning."
The Terps blew early scoring opportunities with dropped passes, fumbles and penalties. Wysocki had 104 yards rushing, but no other Terrapin ran for more than 10 yards. "They shut our running game down pretty well," Coach Jerry Claiborne said.
Still, the Terps had a chance to tie in the last 30 seconds. After Vanderbilt had scored its final points on a 38-yard field goal with 52 seconds left, Maryland's Mike Lewis took the kickoff at the goal line, ran to the 14, and threw a long cross-field lateral to Willie Joyner. He carried it to the 43, but fumbled the ball to the Commodores.
Vanderbilt declined a clipping call against Maryland on that play, but Claiborne said, "If (Lewis) had thrown the ball a little bit harder, the guy they said was clipped would have been no factor and Joyner would have been up the sideline a lot quicker. He might have gone a long way. But it was one of those nights when we didn't quite make it with a lot of things."
Injured Maryland starters included quarterback Brent Dewitz, who bruised a knee in his first start; defensive tackle Mark Duda, whose knee injury could prove the most serious of the lot, and linebacker Darnell Dailey and Wysocki, ankle problems. Claiborne said last evening that none of the players would be examined until this morning.
Claiborne said he was not sure who would start at quarterback in the home opener against West Virginia if Dewitz is healthy, Dewitz or Bob Milkovich, who played three quarters and passed for two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. As for Wysocki, the coach said, "Charlie was limping around here (yesterday) but it's too early to tell anything about next week."
Virginia Coach Dick Bestwick expressed unhappiness yesterday with his defensive line and punter after Saturday's 32-18 Cavalier loss to West Virginia at Scott Stadium.
Mountaineer quarterback Oliver Luck made five amazing third-down pass completions, four to senior receiver Darrell Miller. West Virginia converted eight of its first 10 third downs and scored three touchdowns on the way to a 20-3 halftime lead.
"We'll have to look at our defensive line and see if we can get any more out of them," Bestwick said of his pass rushers. Cavalier defensive tackle Dan Popowski suffered a knee injury and may be out until the end of the season.
Punter Jody McKown's low, line-drive effort helped WVU set up a 42-yard return that led to the first touchdown. "That poor punt killed us," Bestwick said. "I hope that will be his worst performance of the season."
At Howard, Coach Floyd Keith said, "We can't expect to play only one half of football and win consistently." Keith commented after his team built a 27-7 first-half lead that shrank to a tenuous 27-23 before the Division I-AA Bison put away a Division II opponent, Cheyney State, 33-23, at Howard Stadium Saturday. Bison quarterback Ray Gray completed 10 of 16 passes, including a 62-yard touchdown bomb to receiver Tracy Singleton.
"We didn't have the intensity in the second half we did in the first," said Keith. "We will have to improve before the conference opener with Bethune-Cookman next week."
Coach George Welsh was concerned with Navy's passing game and its liability on big plays after Saturday's 17-7 victory over The Citadel at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. "Our running game was good. We got good mileage out of it (249 yards), but we still have to do some work with our passing game (eight of 19 for 81 yards)," he said.
Welsh said the defense, which yielded a total of 335 yards, played well overall.