Coach Ron Vanderlinden said he had talked with many of his Maryland players after last season, especially tailback LaMont Jordan, and promised they were "just scratching the surface with our offense."
The almost limitless possibilities were on display Thursday night in Atlanta against ninth-ranked Georgia Tech: wide receiver Doug Patterson throwing a pass that gained 29 yards, Jordan throwing a pass that wide receiver Jermaine Arrington turned into a 60-yard touchdown, 310 passing yards in all.
However, those successful gimmicks and that yardage were swarmed under by what Georgia Tech senior quarterback Joe Hamilton pulled off during a 49-31 victory over the Terrapins--and that disappointed Vanderlinden. He knew Hamilton was as talented as any player in the country, but he thought Maryland's defense should have been better against him.
"Too many explosions," Vanderlinden said. "Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine us giving up that many."
Hamilton increased his already-impressive resume for the Heisman Trophy by amassing a school-record 474 yards of total offense, including 387 passing on 19 completions. Hamilton passed for three touchdowns and ran 41 yards for another.
In losing for the first time in four games, the Terrapins tried about as many defensive tactics against Hamilton as are close to prudent. Vanderlinden had prodded his pass rushers for being ineffective against West Virginia in the most recent game--and one sack by nose tackle Delbert Cowsette was all they could get on the nimble Hamilton.
Even when the Terrapins hit Hamilton, he often was able to bounce away. Free safety Shawn Forte thought he had Hamilton about 15 yards shy of the goal line on that touchdown run but Hamilton cut back and Forte never got even close to a solid grip.
Another time, Hamilton was hit hard by two tacklers behind the line of scrimmage, but he fired a nine-yard completion to fullback Ed Wilder.
When Maryland blitzed, Hamilton's linemen gave him just enough time for quick completions to wide receivers matched against cornerbacks playing not to give up anything long. The Terrapins' secondary had played very well in three previous games--and left cornerback Lewis Sanders grabbed his fourth interception in as many games Thursday night and recovered his second fumble of the season.
But Georgia Tech's Dez White, one of the nation's top wide receivers, had 215 yards and scored two touchdowns on just five catches. Right cornerback Renard Cox and backup corner Bryn Boggs seemed especially vulnerable.
"One of our goals was to stop the big plays," said Sanders. "We just didn't perform."
Vanderlinden also was frustrated some with the offense and slumping punter Shawn Starner, who averaged 28.9 yards on seven kicks after averaging 29 yards on five kicks against West Virginia.
Had Patterson thrown that pass as well against Georgia Tech as he had during nearly every practice, Maryland would have had a touchdown. Instead, Arrington had to wait long enough for the ball to allow safety Traveres Tillman to recover and make the tackle. The Terrapins had to settle for Brian Kopka's 32-yard field goal.
"We should have given the defense more scores, so there wasn't as much on them," said redshirt quarterback Calvin McCall, who completed half of his 30 passes for 221 yards. He was intercepted for the first time all season, twice in fact. However, one was off a tipped ball and the other came with 42 seconds left in the game.
With a road game against Wake Forest next Saturday starting to intrude on his thoughts about 45 minutes after game's end, Vanderlinden said: "I believe in our defense. . . . I know we're better."