A trend that helped the University of Maryland's football team gain national acclaim last year has now become a nuisance. No matter now hard they try, the Terrapins can't seem to play well for an entire game and have to put on late-game bursts to win, even against mediocre opposition.
The situation is baffling to the Terrapins. Yesterday, Coach Bobby Ross offered suggestions ranging from eliminating pancakes as a pregame meal to having the team scrimmage before a game to get the juices flowing.
"Maybe we ought to stop eating pancakes before the game," Ross said, half jokingly. "I won't scrimmage them this year -- well, I don't plan to. It could be a spontaneous thing. Maybe we ought to stop thinking about it so much. I don't want it to become a mental thing, and I don't think it has yet."
Last November, Maryland came from 31 points down to beat Miami in college football's greatest comeback ever. Then the Terrapins wiped out a 21-point deficit and beat Tennessee a few weeks later in the Sun Bowl. The Terrapins haven't fallen that far behind since, but they have made a habit of playing poorly in the first half, and putting themselves in a position every week of needing a great second half to win.
Beginning one year ago, dating back to a game at North Carolina, Maryland has won 10 of 12 games. And in seven of those 10 victories, the Terrapins have either trailed or been tied at halftime or later. Trailing Miami in the Orange Bowl is one thing; it's another to be tied with North Carolina State in the fourth quarter and with Duke, 10-10, toward the end of the third last Saturday. In two of the other three, Maryland led by only a field goal at halftime.
Maryland (5-2) has a good shot at winning its final four games, beginning with Saturday's homecoming game against North Carolina at Byrd Stadium. But as Ross said yesterday, "If we play like (we have been playing), we could be at a real disadvantage at halftime. Our squad has to wake up and realize that."
The offensive captain, guard Len Lynch, said, "These last four opponents (North Carolina, Miami, Clemson and Virginia) are too tough for us not to play the whole game."
Ross said he was "infuriated" with his players at halftime of what turned out to be a 40-10 victory over Duke. At intermission, the Terrapins led by only 7-3, before they scored 30 points in 10 minutes.
"I don't think they like me to deal with them the way I had to deal with them at halftime on Saturday," Ross said.
The players are as tired of the erratic performances as Ross is.
"I'm sick of it," offensive tackle Tony Edwards said. "I want to play two great halves, not just one great quarter. It's time for that stuff to be over with. We got lucky to do it against Miami. This coming-back stuff is for the birds. It's odd, though. We always come out fired up and ready to play. The whole thing is hard to explain. It's a weird feeling.
"After the Miami game (which Maryland won, 42-40, after trailing, 31-0), we got the feeling that you're never too far down. Nothing can be so wrong that you can't win a football game. At Wake Forest and North Carolina State, we did a lot of bad things. And then we exploded to win. But you can't keep counting on that."
Defensive tackle Scott Tye was asked whether the Terrapins, subconsciously, don't play as hard in the first half, knowing they can usually turn it on in the second half.
"Hell, no," Tye said. "I'd like to jump out, 40-0, on every opponent. I don't know if I have any theories. If you look at some of the game film, you'll see several first-half plays where 10 guys are doing the right thing, one guy grades negatively on the play, but the breakdown costs us the entire play.
"We are a pretty tough team. And as a result, a lot of teams come in with new things in their game plan. Once we're in there at halftime with all the charts and things, we make the necessary adjustments in the second half."
Even though Maryland had its third- and fourth-team players on the field at the end of Saturday's victory over Duke, Blue Devils Coach Steve Sloan has been quoted as saying he thought Maryland ran up the score.
"I would never, ever do that," Ross said. "I've been on the short end of a 70-12 score, so I know how that feels. If I had wanted to run it up, we would have thrown the ball. I have some very close friends on that staff, and I would never do that. It's a terrible thing, and it's not right (to run up the score). I don't know why, if Steve really said those things, that he felt that way."
The Maryland offensive line has decided that every member will grow a beard for an indefinite period.
"This is down-and-dirty week," Lynch said. "Whoever we catch shaving has to pay a dollar to every member of the offensive line. What if he's got no money? Then we get to take some item out of his dorm room."
This may present a problem for some of the younger players. John Perna, the baby-faced sophomore center, is struggling to get peach fuzz, as are several other freshmen.