SHREVEPORT, LA., DEC. 14 -- For most of the week, the matchup between Maryland and Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl seemed like a prize fight between good friends -- there was the usual posing but with both camps just happy to be here, no real animosity at stake. However, today there were signs that a genuine slugfest might develop Saturday at Independence Stadium (8 p.m., Channels 50 and 45).

"They're starting to get awfully cocky," said Maryland linebacker Scott Whittier.

"They've been saying some things; they think they're good," added teammate Scott Zolak, the quarterback. "We respect them but we'll see what's what after all the playing's done out on the field."

The Terrapins were particularly irked that Louisiana Tech players ventured into the Terrapins headquarters Thursday night.

"They came into our territory, went into our hotel and went nuts," Whittier said. "I remember hearing when Maryland played Tennessee {in the 1984 Sun Bowl} -- every time they got near each other there were scuffles. I know there's not as much on the line here but you wouldn't see us going into their place and taking over the lobby."

In a sense, there's much more on the line for Maryland than in '84, when postseason appearances were commonplace for the Terrapins. For Coach Joe Krivak and the entire athletic department, Maryland's first bowl in five years isn't the end of the 1990 season as much as the beginning of what they hope will be a return to continued success.

"This season will stand on its own merit, regardless of the outcome. We've accomplished something. We've made progress," said Krivak. "Now the key is, where do we go from here?"

Louisiana Tech, which 5-4-1 and 8-3 in its three seasons of Division I-A play, has suspended starting defensive end Eric Shaw for firing three gunshots into the door of an offcampus apartment during a November dispute.

Shaw initially was ordered to apologize and make restitution to the apartment owner. When Coach Joe Raymond Peace discovered that hadn't happened, he suspended Shaw, who was second on the team in tackles and sacks and first in tackles for loss and forced fumbles.

"It's an unfortunate thing, but my football team has faced a lot of adversity and this is just another part of that," said Peace. "My players can handle it. We'll play hard and we'll play well."

Krivak took the view that whoever replaced Shaw would perform admirably because "one player's misfortune is another one's opportunity." He added that while Shaw's absence may give the Bulldogs an emotional focal point, he can only be concerned with Maryland's preparation.

In that sense, Krivak has been like a whirlwind since arriving here, barking out orders and running crisp practices at a local high school.

"You have to be focused because there's been so little time," he said. "We've had some casual time, done some socializing but I want them to be able to focus -- when it's time to play I want them to play. If we have an hour and 10 minutes to practice then I want a good hour and 10 minutes.

"I don't want to come here for four days and get put in a vise. . . . This is something like a test for us. We haven't played in almost a month; now we can see how we handle the Virginia win, handle preparations, handle the success we've had."

In Maryland's favor, the team may be as healthy as it's been since the early season. The exceptions are outside linebacker Greg Hines (October knee surgery), who will be replaced by freshman Mark Sturdivant, and senior outside linebacker Karl Edwards, who didn't make the trip because of mononucleosis.

Sturdivant will be one of a handful of young players on the field for the Terrapins. After missing much of the late season because of back pain, redshirt freshman Frank Wycheck, who caught a school record 58 passes, is healthy. So is his backup, freshman Chad Wiestling, who had 13 catches for 112 yards before breaking his collarbone Oct. 6 against Georgia Tech.

At running back, freshman Mark Mason will share time with starter Troy Jackson. Mason, who likely will enter the game on the Terrapins' third or fourth possession, moved up on the depth chart following an 18-carry, 116-yard performance in Maryland's 35-30 victory over the Cavaliers in the regular season finale.

"We're just going to play both of them; we're going to play {sophomore running back} Darrin Colvin too, just like we normally do," said Krivak. "We'll play them and see how it's going and see who has the hot hand."

Whittier said part of Louisiana Tech's confidence is based on films of Maryland's poor showings against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. In addition, Louisiana Tech runs the same one-back offensive set as the Terrapins.

"I'm sure they have a good feel for what we do," Whittier said. "We caught some teams by surprise with our offense this year. That's not going to happen tomorrow. I think the game is going to come down to turnovers. If we play like we did against Wake Forest {a 41-13 win} and Virginia, and not give the ball up, we can win."

"But if we give up long kickoff returns like we've done this year, or throw an interception deep in our territory, then we can be up against it all night."