A fellow familiar with Maryland's football futility, still slightly groggy from World Series jet lag and what he'd just seen in Byrd Stadium, glanced at the scoring summary from Saturday's 49-22 rout of Duke. Casually came the question about last time so many points had cluttered a Terrapin stat sheet.

"Ahhhh," said sports information director Jack Zane, savoring this punch line as few others in his life. "Last week. Fact is, last week we had even more."

Terrapins are pridefully popping their shells like that all over the area.

Once upon a time, 15 years ago to be exact, Maryland scored 46 points in its entire nine-game season. It scored 52 points two Saturdays ago; two days ago, it mustered 49 more. Yes, in answer to a preseason question posed here, turtles can fly.

Lately, anyone who somehow missed the first half of Maryland games missed all the drama. So overwhelming has this high-octane offense of Bobby Ross's been that Maryland scored 22 points before Duke ran its seventh play from scrimmage. The turning point Saturday, as Duke Coach Red Wilson admitted, was the opening kickoff.

Tim Quander ran it back 74 yards, to the Duke 21; the Devils were in a quandary thereafter.

After five straight victories, there still is some puzzlement over just what to make of these Terrapins. Duke could be dismissed as terminally tepid, except for this fact: it beat the Tennessee team that beat the Alabama team that beat the Penn State team that beat fifth-rated Nebraska.

Which in football logic means Maryland ought to be ranked fourth this week.

Even giddy Terrapins won't go that far.

Top 20 seems reasonable.

For a week.

Now comes what deep thinkers are calling The Rest of Maryland's Real Season. That's the three-game stretch, starting with North Carolina in Chapel Hill Saturday, which follows the five-game gulp of confidence that followed exciting losses to Penn State and West Virginia.

Before Ross started Maryland believing it could make the Steel Curtain seem lacelike, conventional wisdom even in College Park was that a 6-5 season would be wonderful. That was assuming the turtles were not swallowed by the five monsters on an especially tough schedule.

The Terrapins perhaps should have won the five games they already have, some of us argued. But not by a combined 188-62.

Now turtle watchers are conceding 7-4 as a reasonable goal, possibly even 8-3 with both Miami and Clemson seemingly human after all. Bowl scouts are cocking their ears; the Tangerine gang was on hand for Saturday's game.

Beating Carolina on the road still seems close to a fantasy. Haven't we traveled this path before, with Jerry Claiborne? Maryland whomps the weak teams, then gets ranked the week before playing somebody terrific. Pop goes the momentum.

Maybe not now.

Ross very likely still has to win at least seven games for Maryland to go bowling again. He already has established an image Claiborne never could, and that bowls adore: his teams make football fun to watch. There is another element that in the past has hurt Maryland, something Ross can only indirectly control.

That is the price Maryland fans will pay for their team. How far are more than a few willing to go to watch an important game? Recently, even with Claiborne's exceptional teams, Terrapin road crowds rarely hit four figures. So bowl officials reason: if their own kind don't care deeply, why should we?

Well, Maryland under Ross offers as much for the money as a customer could want. For a change, Maryland's traveling fan squad should be exponentially larger than the team's. How many red and white costumes decorate Kenan Stadium will be a factor this week, though that will not be nearly as significant as how many points the Terrapins put on the scoreboard.

The scales of football justice are turning for at least one Terrapin, defensive back Lendell Jones, a junior who has gone from embarrassment to ecstacy in one season.

A year ago, Jones was part of arguably the least experienced secondary in major-college football. Everybody last season passed on Maryland the way Maryland is passing on everybody this season. Had he been a coach, Jones would have done the same thing.

"The worst part (about last season)," he said, "was that we didn't seem like we were together. We needed to go out and win some games (they were 4-6-1). We played as if our heart wasn't in it. The difference is that now we're playing with our heart and soul."

Having been picked on by such as Perry Tuttle of Clemson and Mike Quick of North Carolina State, both high first-round NFL draftees, Jones is making pigeons of some receivers. Saturday, he intercepted four passes.

"Last year was demoralizing," he admitted, "but we didn't give up on ourselves. And that hard work, plus experience, is paying off. Our technique is better; so is the pass rush, and that's about the most important thing for guys like us.

"I'm taking chances; sometimes it's paid off."

Same with Athletic Director Dick Dull. He took a chance in hiring Ross this year to replace Claiborne. With attendance up several thousand per home game, that's paying off much earlier than expected.