Bobby Ross' cheeks wouldn't have been so red with rage if his young defensive linemen had been overmatched. But it was impossible for Ross, or the entire Maryland team for that matter, to understand why the highly regarded offense betrayed the Terrapins yesterday.
That offense committed five of the Terrapins' six turnovers and virtually gave Syracuse a 23-7 victory before 38,850 fans in Byrd Stadium in the season opener.
Ross was angrier yesterday than at any other time in his two previous seasons as head coach at Maryland. He realized that if the inexperienced defensive line hadn't played so well and forced Syracuse to settle three times for field goals, the outcome would have been far more lopsided.
"Offensively, I can't find one single thing to be happy about," Ross said. "I can't find one positive thing. I am very disappointed in the way we played, offensively. We're gonna get a hell of a lot better, offensively, I know that."
Those comments came before Ross realized that Maryland turnovers (one by the special teams) stopped five of six possessions toward the end of the game when all Maryland had to do was overcome a 10-7 deficit in the fourth quarter.
"Lord, have mercy," Ross said. "They came one right after another. Five out of six times? That's bad. You're not going to establish anything like that. I know we're a better football team than that, offensively."
Maryland certainly didn't show it yesterday.
The Terrapins took a 7-0 lead on their first possession. Sophomore fullback Tommy Neal had a 16-yard carry. Quarterback Frank Reich passed 12 yards on a flanker screen to Greg Hill. And Reich, on third and six, threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Hill.
It seemed so easy. But Maryland couldn't do it again. Thereafter, Syracuse tied the game on a four-yard touchdown pass from Todd Norley to Scott Schwedes with 32 seconds left in the half.
Don McAulay's first field goal, a 25-yarder with three minutes left in the third quarter, put the Orangemen on top, 10-7. It was set up by Reich's second interception.
Syracuse increased the lead to 13-7 with 5:37 left in the game on McAulay's 34-yard field goal. That was set up by Neal's fumble at his 10.
On the very next play, Donald Brown fumbled the kickoff at his 18, giving Syracuse automatic position for another McAulay field goal, this one from 32 yards, which made it 16-7 with 4:44 left.
Syracuse scored the game's final points on a one-yard run by Jamie Covington after Reich, while being sacked on fourth and 14, fumbled at his nine.
"I don't know any team in the country that can turn the ball over five times and still win," Reich said.
The happiest man in College Park had to be Syracuse Coach Dick MacPherson, who as much as said that his team's season would be defined by whether it beat Maryland in this season opener.
The Orangemen, 6-5 last year, returned 16 starters and MacPherson felt beating the Terrapins in Byrd was the quickest way to credibility. "People ask, 'Who's Syracuse?' Now the answer is, 'Oh, they beat Maryland in College Park,' " MacPherson said.
MacPherson seemed convinced that the biggest play was a touchdown Maryland didn't get because of a penalty.
With about two minutes left in the first quarter and Maryland ahead, 7-0, Reich threw deep to freshman Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, who caught the ball at the Syracuse 40 and didn't even have to use his 4.37-second speed (in the 40-yard dash) to complete the 67-yard touchdown play.
The Terrapins thought they were up, 14-0. But Tony Edwards, Maryland's left tackle, was called for illegal use of hands while blocking Syracuse tackle Tim Green.
Ross called it "a good call, a legitimate call."
Maryland guard Greg Harraka called it "borderline."
MacPherson said the penalty turned the game "psychologically.
"If that goes for a touchdown, they're high as a kite and we're down," MacPherson said. "But when we see that flag we think, 'Oh, this won't be that bad a year.' We get high as a kite and they're down."
The heroes for Syracuse were Covington, who rushed 25 times for 97 yards, and Harold Gayden, who carried 19 times for 82 yards. They didn't move the ball much on Maryland's young linemen when it counted, but they were the primary reason Syracuse held the ball for almost 36 of the game's 60 minutes.
Just as important for the Orange were right tackle Green, outside linebacker Jamie Kimmel, and safeties Ron Hobby and Pete Ewald.
Maryland had 156 yards total offense in the first half, but finished with just 217. Reich completed only one of six passes, for eight yards, in the third quarter. Green and Kimmel were largely responsible.
Hobby's interception in the third quarter -- after the ball was tipped by receiver Eric Holder -- set up Syracuse's go-ahead field goal.
Two series later, after Hill and Neal had dropped passes that could have been big gainers, Reich found Hill deep for what might have been a touchdown. But Hobby, at the last half-second, lunged and tipped the ball away from Hill, forcing Maryland to punt.
Hobby recovered Neal's fumble on Maryland's next possession.
It was a good thing for Syracuse that Maryland kept giving up the ball in such good field position. After Neal's fumble, Syracuse lost six yards but wound up with the field goal that made it 13-7.
And after Brown's kick return fumble -- "I just didn't get under the ball properly," he said -- Syracuse gained only two yards in three plays before kicking another for a 16-7 lead.
If there was a bright spot for Maryland it was the play of the defensive line, and the defense in general. As Ross said, "I really was surprised. They held up against a good, experienced team."