ANN ARBOR, MICH., SEPT. 29 -- There are times when the difference between a monumental victory and a crushing defeat is a fine line -- and it doesn't take much to trip across it. Maryland tripped and fell today, 45-17, at Michigan Stadium to a sixth-ranked Michigan team that was ripe for the taking.

The Terrapins -- particularly their defense -- had plenty to do with the Wolverines' troubles, virtually shutting down Michigan's vaunted offense while forcing three turnovers. Michigan (3-1) entered the game with the nation's leading rusher, tailback Jon Vaughn, and ranked seventh in total offense.

However, Vaughn finished with just 89 yards -- about 150 under his average -- and the rest of the Wolverines floundered against a defense that performed much better than other, more highly touted teams.

"We watched films of Michigan's games against Notre Dame and UCLA and their defenses were horrible, they played scared," said linebacker Scott Whittier. "We were hitting Michigan just as hard as they were hitting us -- they just put the ball in the end zone more."

Maryland was unable to match the Wolverines in that category because of mental and physical errors. In the first quarter, for example, Dan DeArmas was just short on a 46-yard field goal -- three plays after a five-yard illegal procedure penalty and right after quarterback Scott Zolak short-armed an incomplete pass to Norris Hanes while running back Darren Colvin stood wide open in the flat.

Michigan also enjoyed great field position because of Maryland's poor coverage on special teams. The Wolverines averaged 32.3 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 on punt returns. In eight second-half possessions, Michigan started in Maryland territory five times.

Meanwhile, Maryland (3-2) continued its season-long habit of committing turnovers and squelching scoring opportunities. Zolak broke his team single-game record with 29 completions in 45 attempts for 264 yards, but the mark was made hollow by three first-half interceptions.

The senior also lost two fumbles (once when the football was snapped before Zolak expected it) as the Terrapins totaled six turnovers.

Michigan scored after three of the miscues, including a 27-yard interception return by Martin Davis 56 seconds into the game. One play after Zolak's second interception, Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac hit Desmond Howard with a 37-yard touchdown pass.

The third Wolverines' interception, by cornerback Lance Dottin at the Michigan 4-yard line with four seconds left in the half, cost Maryland a chance to go into the locker room down by perhaps 21-17 instead of 21-10.

"When you throw that much you're going to take some chances, but you don't want turnovers because they put you in the hole," said Zolak. "We're playing tougher teams every week; I'm trying to make a lot of stuff happen. I didn't do it today but I'm not going to stop. I'm not going to do anything differently."

As has been the case all season, the offense was effective -- but only in spurts. Maryland rushed for a season-high 93 yards (131 minus the 38 yards lost on four sacks of Zolak), with Troy Jackson picking up 89 before a knee injury sidelined him in the second half.

After Davis's game-opening touchdown, the Terrapins marched 69 yards to score on a 32-yard DeArmas field goal; on their first possession of the second half, they went 74 yards in 12 plays, Andre Vaughn scoring on a second-effort, two-yard run to bring Maryland within four.

However, that's when things began to turn back in Michigan's favor. The ensuing kickoff was returned 40 yards by Derrick Alexander, and Michigan started a 59-yard, nine-play drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Grbac to Jarrod Bunch that put Michigan up, 28-17.

"If we could have held them there it could've been a different game," said linebacker Glenn Page. "They kicked our butts on that series. Once they hit you they stayed with you. They never let up."

On the first play after Bunch's touchdown, Zolak was sacked by T.J. Osman, losing the ball to the Michigan nose tackle on the Maryland 7. The Terrapins forced Michigan to settle for a 22-yard field goal by J.D. Carlson, making the score 31-17.

But Maryland punted after three plays, with Michigan taking over on the Terrapins 48. After a first down, Vaughn broke his longest run of the day, for 26 yards on a draw that moved the ball to the 7.

"That was the play that killed us," said Whittier.

Three plays later Vaughn scored from two yards to put the game out of reach. He and most of the other first-stringers on both teams were long gone when Ken Sollom found Kevin Owen with a 37-yard pass with 5:05 remaining to complete the scoring.

If there was any good news for Maryland, apart from the defensive effort and the improved running game, it was the fact that the team apparently got through the afternoon without any major injuries.

The Terrapins' slide to last season's 3-7-1 record really began when Maryland left Ann Arbor with a 41-21 loss and a long list of injuries that ultimately proved too much.

Beside Jackson, Maryland lost H-back Frank Wycheck (bruised back and pinched nerve) and tight end Bret Boehly (bruised ribs) in the first half. After intermission, defensive backs Mike Thomas (twisted knee) and Bill Inge (bruised sternum) were forced to the sidelines, but team officials were hopeful all would be able to return for next Saturday's game against Georgia Tech.

"The key will be where we are {physically} next week -- we have to bounce back," said Terps Coach Joe Krivak. "We have six tough weekends left."