Maryland was last in rushing in the Atlantic Coast Conference during the 1986 season. Yes, they had many injuries. And, yes, they were forced to use a different lineup almost every week, often ones that included inexperienced players. But the bottom line was that the Terrapins got pushed around up front.
Bill Hughes played three positions in the first game last year, finishing the evening and the season at center. That is where he will start Saturday night when the Terrapins open their 1987 season against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. It will be a solid test for the offensive line in general, and Hughes in particular. He will have to face senior Ted Gregory, regarded as one of the best nose guards in the country.
"It's a very interesting matchup," Maryland Coach Joe Krivak said. "Gregory is a great nose guard. There's no bones about it, he's the key to their defense. But Bill's a senior and a fine player."
With Gregory at nose guard, Syracuse was fourth in the nation in rushing defense in 1984 and sixth in 1985. But in 1986, Gregory broke his left leg in the second game of the season, and the Orangemen were nowhere to be seen among the national leaders in defense. After seasons of 6-5 and 7-4, they lost their first four games in 1986 and finished 5-6.
Gregory stands 6 feet 1 and weighs 260 pounds. That's fairly close to the prototypical nose guard -- someone who is short, squat and strong as a bull.
"He is, but he has great, great quickness," said George O'Leary, Syracuse's defensive coordinator until this season. "And his initial blow can stun a guy really quickly. I would be surprised if there are too many nose guards better than him."
In part because he is often double-teamed, Gregory might be slightly less effective against the pass than he is against the run.
"He is great against the run and better than average against the pass," O'Leary said. "And he's probably a better pass rusher than he gets credit for because he's always double-teamed. Which means somebody else is single-covered and ought to be getting in there."
Syracuse and Maryland last met in the now-defunct Cherry Bowl in 1985. However, Hughes and Gregory didn't face each other. Hughes would have started at center but didn't play because he developed mononucleosis the week before the game. Gregory was in the game for only a few plays before injuring his knee.
Gregory thinks the Orangemen need to regain the spirit they had in 1985.
"We need the tenacious defense that we had in '85," Gregory said. "That will really help us this year. Last year we sort of faltered."
The '87 Orangemen are facing a problem similar to the one Maryland faced last year: a very young offensive line.
"Personally," Gregory said, "I think the defense is going to have to carry the load. Toward the end of last year, the offense was carrying us. But this year, the offensive line is young, so there is a lot more pressure to keep us in games until the offense comes around."
With a record-setting, drop-back quarterback and a slew of receivers returning, Maryland is expected to throw the ball a lot. But Hughes said the line is eager to establish the running game early in the season.
"We want to get going right away," he said. "Last year was a disappointing year: last in the conference in rushing, a 5-5-1 record and no bowl game. It's real important we get off to a good start. If we can establish the running game and control the line of scrimmage, it will set up the passing game and give everyone a real boost."
Hughes is 6 feet 5 and weighs 276, so he'll have advantages over Gregory of about four inches and 15 pounds.
"He looks like he has long arms and is a great pass blocker," Gregory said of Hughes. "On the pass rush, I don't think I'll try to swim over him."
Hughes is one of two Maryland captains. He also must make numerous calls on the line of scrimmage.
"No. 1, Bill is a very intelligent football player," Maryland offensive line coach John Zernhelt said. "We put a lot of pressure on the center to recognize the defensive front and change the blocking schemes and Bill has done an excellent job. No. 2, he is a physically tough individual. He had a bad shoulder in the spring. He had surgery on it and came back in a month. And No. 3, he's taken the responsibility of being a captain very seriously. When you're a senior, you don't have a choice -- you have to lead by example. The only question is whether it's good or bad."
There will be five freshmen on the travel squad: tailback Mike Beasley, tight end Bret Boehly from McLean, Va., punter Dan DeArmas, defensive tackle Nick Oleson and defensive back Scott Rosen.