COLLEGE PARK -- This was the day University of Maryland football fans had dreaded, a day when the defense was a no-show and the offense had to win the game.
Why, though, did it have to happen on an afternoon when the Terps were trying make a big move in the Atlantic Coast Conference race?
Georgia Tech, ranked 23rd in the nation, had 471 yards of total offense, including 271 passing, and held the Terps' offense to 235 yards while compiling 11 sacks in yesterday's 31-3 victory before 31,941 at Byrd Stadium.
"This is probably as good a licking as we've taken all season," said Maryland head coach Joe Krivak. "I think it was in every phase of the game -- they ran the ball, they threw the ball when they wanted to. And we just couldn't handle the pass rush. There's not much else to say."
The loss also quieted some of the Terps' talk about winning the ACC title and getting bowl bid. A victory would have put Maryland (3-3, 1-2 in the ACC) in great position for the league championship, especially with the next three games against lowly Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina.
Instead, the Terps are re-evaluating team goals.
"This puts a big damper on our chances of winning the ACC title," said Terps defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic. "We now have to regroup, focus on having a winning season and possibly getting to a bowl. Right now it's hard to focus on anything because we just got our butts whipped."
Said Terps wide receiver Barry Johnson: "This loss makes an ACC title very difficult. It's hard to come back from two conference losses. We've still got five games left, so anything can happen. We just have to win and hope somebody knocks some of the better teams off."
Maryland seemed to be one of the better conference teams, and some league coaches even said the Terps' defense was the best in the conference. But that honor may belong to Georgia Tech (4-0, 2-0), which hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown this season.
Yesterday, the Yellow Jackets took Maryland's defense apart. The Terps came into the game giving up only 118.8 rushing and 171.6 passing yards per game.
By the time they were finished, the Yellow Jackets had rushed for 202 yards, including 97 on 16 carries by fullback T.J. Edwards. And quarterback Shawn Jones had a career-high passing total of 271 yards, completing 15 of 25 passes.
"I cannot tell you what happened to the defense out there today," Zizakovic said.
Here's what happened.
The Terps couldn't stop the Yellow Jackets on the option, or the counter rushing plays. Georgia Tech picked on the Maryland cornerbacks, using post and curl patterns because the Terps gave them too much room to run. Georgia Tech flanker Bobby Rodriguez had four receptions for 80 yards, and split end Emmett Merchant had four for 78.
A big turning point came when Maryland's already weak secondary became weaker when starting cornerback Scott Rosen had to leave with a mild concussion only three minutes into the game. He returned with 5:13 left in the half, but by then Georgia Tech had repeatedly picked on his replacement, sophomore Mike Hopson, and held a 17-3 lead.
Georgia Tech scored on a 12-yard run by halfback Jeff Wright on the counter play with 3:32 left in the first period for a 10-0 lead. The play was set up by a 23-yard reception by Merchant, who beat Hopson across the middle.
Georgia Tech fullback Stefen Scotton scored on a 1-yard run that finished an impressive 11-play, 71-yard drive with 9:15 left in the second quarter and put the Yellow Jackets ahead, 17-3. Jones, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore, completed passes of 11, 23, 26 and 11 yards during the drive.
"They came out and had a couple of long runs early, and that's when everybody started doubting," said Maryland inside linebacker Scott Whittier. "Nobody had run on us like that before. You got to give Georgia Tech credit -- they are a very good football team."
So, with the Maryland defense having problems, it left only the offense to bail the Terps out with some ball possession.
The team had talked about the situation Friday night.
"It was at the team meeting," said Whittier. "Only the players were there, and they said they were going to get it going to bail us out. They said they were due. Yeah, I knew one day this defense was going to have one bad day."
Maryland's offense was at a season worst yesterday. The Terps were held to minus-20 yards rushing, the worst rushing total since a minus-58 against the Naval Academy in 1955. Quarterback Scott Zolak completed 16 of 33 passes for 192 yards, and one of his passes was intercepted. That's eight interceptions in the last three games.
Backup quarterback Jim Sandwisch, who came in midway through the last quarter, was the victim of the 11th sack by the Yellow Jackets.
Time for quarterback controversy? Not yet. There was plenty of blame to go around.
Sometimes Zolak was hurried, other times his receivers dropped balls. He was sacked 10 times, five by right outside linebacker Marco Coleman. The only real drive the Terps mounted was a 10-play, 55-yard march that ended with Dan DeArmas' 28-yard field goal 39 seconds into the second period. A Maryland drive before the half ended with Zolak's pass being intercepted at the Yellow Jackets 12 with 12 seconds remaining.
"I know I can play better," said Zolak, who was booed yesterday, "but sometimes I had people in my face, or holding onto my leg. Everybody played badly. There are no excuses. We just got our butts kicked."
Most of the Terps agreed. There weren't any extended periods of grieving in Maryland's post-game interview room yesterday.
"Some people picked us to be 0-6 at this point," said Whittier. "We're 3-3, and fighting for a winning season. Considering the past couple of years here at Maryland, that's not too bad. We got five games left, and I know I'm going out to play my butt off."