Not much worries Boomer Esiason, the preeminent left-hander on the University of Maryland campus until basketball starts up. The television people turned lights on the quarterback yesterday for an interview. Esiason held a small boy in the crook of his left arm. The boy had hair as blond as Boomer's. "Nothing immoral here," Esiason said, smiling. "He's my nephew."
About the only thing that worries this dashing bachelor is that he won't grow up safe and sound if he practices very long against his own team's defensive line.
"I live with these guys," he said, "and, meanwhile, they want to kill me. There's nothing more horrifying than seeing two of them coming from the outside, then two coming from the inside. They're quick and big and strong. What can I say?"
Strange as it sounds, Maryland is a better defensive team this season than last because it is a better offensive team.
Yesterday's 23-6 victory over North Carolina State is irrefutable evidence. Always good against the run for departed coach Jerry Claiborne, Maryland's defenders were exceptional against the pass for the new coach, Bobby Ross. This takes some explaining.
In spring practices when the No. 1 offense often goes against the No. 1 defense, the defense learns every offensive trick.
Claiborne's offense was boring and predictable. You had the idea that if Jerry wanted coffee, he'd send the tailback off tackle to McDonald's. So Claiborne's defenders worked long hours against the run.
When Claiborne quit to go to Kentucky, where the natives already are restless with boredom, Maryland specifically hired an offensive thinker, Bobby Ross, the Kansas City Chiefs' running back coach.
At Ross' direction, Boomer Esiason threw the ball hundreds of times this spring. So instead of standing strong against a tailback, the Maryland defense this spring chased a blond quarterback all over College Park.
Both the offense and defense profited by it yesterday at Byrd Stadium. Maryland's offense was so bold as to run a reverse on second and 10 at the State 27. Mike Lewis went 18 yards to set up a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave Maryland a 23-0 lead.
Esiason threw deep on the game's first play, setting a passionate tone for the Susan Anton fans among the 34,300 customers.
Esiason still looked to throw on his last play, when a Claiborne quarterback would have put mustard on the ball as preparation for eating it while the clock ticked down.
Esiason was 13 for 26 for 183 yards, not the sensational numbers of the first two weeks (21 for 38, 246 yards average), but Willie Joyner rushed for 111 yards to give Ross the offensive balance he longs for.
The defense, meanwhile, rendered North Carolina State helpless. Averaging 145 yards rushing in three straight victories, State gained no yards rushing yesterday.
Maryland's defense so dominated State that the Terrapins had five sacks, broke up five passes, made two interceptions and recovered one fumble. Maryland also sent State's scrambling quarterback, Tol Avery, into a state of scrambled confusion.
"Tol had a slight concussion and dizziness and loss of memory," said the losing coach, Monte Kiffin, afterward.
That happened when Maryland's defensive end, J.D. Gross, came on a blitz from the left side.
"As soon as I got by one guy, I knew he would be mine," said Gross of the third-quarter play. "I hit him with my helmet right here."
Gross put his hand against his Adam's apple.
Avery played no more after that.
Maryland's defensive game plan was predicated on Avery's well-established habit of looking only to one receiver.
If that receiver is covered, Avery takes to running. Maryland's defensive linemen applied pressure quickly and often, knowing that if Avery had to hurry his passing he would be in trouble.
The plan worked perfectly. "We played the pass a whole lot more," said Gurnest Brown, Maryland's 6-foot-4, 261-pound defensive tackle. "And their quarterback got a little jumpy. We'd turn on the jets and go after him every chance we got. At the first, we had the ends coming hard and the tackles laying back. Then the ends would set back and I would come."
Or Mark Duda would arrive on top of Avery's head. Duda is another Maryland tackle of the 260-pound persuasion. The Terrapins' defensive line had 47 sacks last year and has set a unit goal of 67 this season (11 so far in three games).
With the schedule softening up after opening road defeats at Penn State and West Virginia, the Terrapins now will move strongly toward that 67 figure.
"We built up some resentment from losing two games," said Duda, a four-year veteran starting alongside three five-year interior linemen. "But this is the beginning of our second season -- the ACC season. And everybody had a little mean on today. Everybody felt we would go out and dominate."
How good is this Maryland defensive line?
"Of the four I've been on, this is by far the best," Duda said. "With Brown and me being 260 on the ends, we're strong enough to stand up to the sweeps.
"And everybody is quick enough to rush the passer now, probably because we rushed Boomer so much in the spring. You can only do what you see, and we saw a lot of passing this spring."
Kiffin hinted that this may be a very good Maryland team. Kiffin's first two N.C. State teams lost to Maryland, 24-0 and 34-9.
This time State came to town with a 3-0 record--against mediocrities, certainly, but 3-0 and averaging 30 points a game. So Kiffin came with high hopes.
"Maryland has always been our nemesis," he said afterward. "We felt confident coming in here today. But we couldn't get anything going."
Kiffin said it wasn't so much State's lack of ability as it was Maryland's strength and experience.
"I don't think anyone knows how good Maryland is. Some people said, 'Oh, they're okay.' They may be better than that."