They held Virginia Tech to just three first downs in the second half and stopped the Hokies from converting seven third- and fourth-down situations. A week later, against West Virginia, they knocked starting quarterback Greg Jones out of the game on one play while on another, Maryland linebacker Jack Bradford tackled former Terrapin Mike Beasley so hard he lost his helmet in the process.

Defense is back at the University of Maryland, and with a game Saturday against Clemson at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, the unit will face its sternest test of this young season.

"I'm pleased with the offense and how far those guys have come along but the defense is only doing what it's supposed to do," said nose guard Rick Fleece. "That's just part of our job, we're supposed to be able to shut teams down."

While quarterback Scott Zolak has passed for back-to-back 300-yard games and receivers Frank Wycheck and Gene Thomas seemingly set school records and perform last-minute heroics with regularity, Maryland defenders secured victories in the opening two games of the season with solid, clutch performances.

A year ago, opponents averaged nearly 196 yards rushing and 179 through the air against the Terrapins. This season Virginia Tech and West Virginia averaged 109 rushing and 163 passing against Maryland, which has been even more impressive in the final minutes of play.

"All things are possible in he who believeth and we believe that we're a good defense," said Bradford, second to fellow linebacker Glenn Page in tackles this season. "We've been playing together for so long but we hadn't been successful. We all just decided . . . I mean, this is the last chance for me -- this is it -- and I decided I'm not quitting or running from anyone, I'm going to be ready."

That would certainly be prudent for Saturday's game against Clemson. Maryland is playing for its first three-game winning streak in four years and a spot in the national rankings, but Clemson and first-year coach Ken Hatfield are looking to save face after an embarrassing 20-7 loss to Virginia last weekend.

In the past, Clemson hasn't needed much in the way of excess motivation to succeed against the Terrapins. In recent seasons, the Tigers have been able to overwhelm Maryland on the basis of sheer physical ability in their backfield and along the offensive line.

Earlier this week, Krivak compared Maryland's 45-16 loss to Clemson in his first season as head coach to "Omaha Beach. We hit Ferrell Edmunds on a screen for something like 73 yards to go up 7-0, then it was lights out. . . . They've always had a great group of athletes but the nice thing about {the past} is that it will have no bearing on what happens Saturday."

The same applies to a Maryland defense that faces a set of problems in Clemson that differs from the opening two games. Neither Virginia Tech nor West Virginia ran much in the way of veer- or option-like attacks. That's one of the things Hatfield retained when he took over for Danny Ford.

Fleece, Larry Webster and the other Terrapins linemen will have to deal with a style of blocking that also has been foreign to them so far this season.

"They do a lot of scramble blocking -- coming off the line lower -- and we haven't seen that and they do more double-teaming," said defensive line coach Dennis Murphy. "They represent power football, they want to knock you off the ball; they tee it up, get dirty and it's just let the best man win."

In past seasons Maryland has been on the losing end of that contest but the beatings the team has taken in recent years may be beneficial on Saturday.

"These guys have been to Clemson, they've been to Michigan and even if they got beat they still should have been getting better," said defensive coordinator Greg Williams. "They've played against some pretty good teams and they're still here."

When last year's defense collapsed under a rash of injuries, younger performers like Ralph Orta, Ron Reagan and Mike Jarmolowich gained valuable experience. Now blended with veterans like Fleece, Page and Michael Hollis, Maryland has perhaps its deepest defense since Krivak took over.

"You can sit back and say 'I'll take this chance' or just stay back where you are instead of worrying about having to be over there," said Hollis. "Last year, never knowing who was going to be back there, there was no continuity. We spent a lot of time playing each other's spots and not taking care of our own."

Terrapins Notes: Reagan, a defensive back, will miss Saturday's game because of a sprained ankle. Also missing from the starting lineup will be offensive guard Ron Staffileno, who has a subluxation of his right shoulder. "It's supposed to be something like a separated shoulder and I think there are pulled muscles in the rotator cuff too," Staffileno said. "I think I'll be out at least a week . . . it's very frustrating."

Another player injured in last Saturday's victory over Virginia Tech, linebacker Scott Whittier, is expected to play despite a sore neck. Another sore Terrapin is running back Troy Jackson.

Although Maryland has attempted 88 passes to 64 runs, Jackson has 37 of the carries and as the sole setback in the Terrapins' one-back offense, the junior is somewhat easy to find. On Tuesday, Jackson was asked how he felt when he got out of bed on the last two Sundays after Maryland games. "How do I feel Sunday morning? The same way I feel now -- sore," said Jackson. . . .

Maryland won't practice at all at Memorial Stadium before Saturday but Krivak said he doesn't feel unfamiliarity will have an effect on the game.

"The only thing I can think of is that when you hit around the 30-35 yard line going into the end zone you're playing on dirt," he said. "But that's going to be even for everyone; I wouldn't think that'll have any profound effect -- playing on AstroTurf is tougher, you get more nicks and scrapes."