Syracuse Coach Don MacPherson came into today's Cherry Bowl game confident about at least one thing: his rushing defense.
The Orangemen had the fourth-best rushing defense in the nation. Navy, with Napoleon McCallum, could muster only 60 yards rushing against Syracuse earlier this season. On Friday, when it was suggested Maryland might run the ball, MacPherson answered, "They've got to prove it to us. Show us."
Maryland showed them. The Terrapins rushed for a season-high 244 yards. Tailback Alvin Blount had 132 of them, another season-high for a Syracuse opponent.
"This is the first time this year anyone has consistently run the football against us," MacPherson said. "From that point, I was surprised."
Maryland's first scoring drive consisted mostly of running plays. Senior fullback Rick Badanjek carried for six yards, then five yards. After a 24-yard pass from Stan Gelbaugh to Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, the Terrapins went back to the ground.
Blount got five, then eight. Badanjek ran for two more. Blount had seven more, then five. And Gelbaugh finished it up with a rollout for four yards and a touchdown.
The running not only produced yards, it kept the Syracuse pass rushers off balance and prevented Maryland from having too many third-and-long situations. "It's difficult to get to him (the quarterback) when it's always third and short," Syracuse all-America Tim Green said.
Even so, MacPherson felt worse about his team's five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) than Maryland's rushing yardage. "The turnovers just killed us," MacPherson said. "The killer turnover was the third one, the punt."
On that play, Syracuse's Scott Schwedes caught a punt at his 10-yard line but fumbled it. Maryland's Scott Tye grabbed the ball in the air and returned it eight yards for the score. Most players thought it was the key play of the game.
"It happens so quick it's difficult for a team to come back right away," MacPherson said. "It's not like we drove on them or anything. It was just, boom. Six more points."
MacPherson said he felt Maryland had "better personnel than we do, but not by much. But we won't be able to prove that until we stop making turnovers."
Syracuse fumbled nine times and committed three turnovers in a loss to West Virginia in its regular-season finale. "When you start 7-3 and end up 7-5, you feel lousy," MacPherson said. "This last month has hurt."
MacPherson also had to elaborate on another statement he had made earlier in the week, that nobody remembered who lost bowl games two weeks later.
"The way I feel right now," he said, "I don't think I could say that anymore."