A lot of Terrapins' momentum comes from optimistic Duffner

The Grid Griddle:

The Maryland football team was rolling, the first downs piling up impressively. It had potent Florida State back on its heels, not knowing where the next stiletto was coming from. Then the referee motioned for a stoppage in play.


"I kind of wish we hadn't called that first timeout," said Terps coach Mark Duffner. "We were having a communication problem and had to get it straightened out."

Question is, did the timeout have a telling effect on the final outcome of the game, considering Maryland lost that early momentum? Probably not, the Seminoles being sufficiently clear at the end to pass up a touchdown that would have raised their score to 75, versus 21 for the Terps.


Under similar circumstances many seasons ago, a Penn State coach washeard to mutter that the reason his team lost to Army was because of a controversial fumble recovery call in the first quarter. Considering the final was 41-7, writer Stanley Woodward mused, "That's like blaming the Johnstown Flood on a leaky toilet in Altoona."

True to his nature after the annihilation, Duffner saw many good things in his team -- "We got an exceptional effort from our special teams" -- but mostly the coach is "thankful we have another opportunity after that game."

Not many would look at a game with Clemson as a shot at vindication, but then not many possess the coach's ultra-optimistic perspective on things.

"I really won't have a final assessment on the season until after it's over and I've had a chance to think about it," he said. "And I'm certainly not glad it's nearly over [despite the 2-8 record]. Playing is what we work for, and I love the weekly routine of practice and preparing.

"We've got started in a lot of ways. We're proud of the attitude development that's gone on here this season. We've been able to do some things. We've got to like each other and our willingness to fight to the finish in every game has been advanced."

So win or lose against 12-point favorite Clemson Saturday at Byrd Stadium (12:10 p.m.), it has been an interesting and exciting year in College Park. It has been a while since such a claim could even be hinted at.

* The biggest game in the East this weekend is Syracuse (8-1) visiting Boston College (7-1-1). The B.C. Eagles were flying until last weekend when grounded by Notre Dame emphatically, 54-7. Given a couple of days to think about it, coach Tom Coughlin came to the conclusion that "this is the only game I can think of in my two years here when we didn't come to play."

B.C. did appear to be in a quandary throughout, a situation that hasn't done much to settle down Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni this week. "They're always so well prepared," he said, "and I expect they'll be even more so this week. It's going to be tough going up there [to homecoming] and playing outdoors."


Did you ever think football would get to the point where, after being played in the elements for 124 years, a coach would end up complaining about not playing on a carpet and controlled 70-degree temperature?

"We went to Florida State last year and had the same thing [demolition] happen to us, so I don't pay much attention to what happened at Notre Dame," said Pasqualoni.

"Now that we've had a strong dose of humility," said Coughlin, "we get a chance to see what we're made of. Before last week's game, maybe we got to feeling that we were pretty good. We saw how quickly things can change."

What makes this one a fairly big deal is that, under the dictates of the bowl coalition, the team finishing second behind top-ranked Miami in the Big East Conference likely grabs a lucrative spot in a major bowl.

* Speaking of Miami, the Hurricanes were off last week and have what amounts to a bye this week, playing at home against Temple (1-8).

"The way we stay up every week," says coach Dennis Erickson, "is our players truly enjoy playing. They enjoy preparing. And they especially enjoy getting better with the idea of keeping the program where it is."


Meanwhile, Temple coach Jerry Berndt, after his team's 29-15 loss to Akron, said: "We've hit the bottom of the barrel in our program and, if we don't play our absolute best, it could be a massacre [in the Orange Bowl]. We've lost eight straight games and we're looking down the barrel of a loaded howitzer."

* Bowl talk increases proportionately with each passing week of the season to the point where it's pretty much all some coaches are asked about after Labor Day. Some comments as the postseason approaches:

Miami's Erickson, his defending co-champion national champs riding a 26-game win streak: "What I like about the bowl coalition is there's a chance for No. 1 to play No. 2 so that the championship can be decided on the field. That's what everybody wants."

Don Nehlen, West Virginia: "I'm a football coach, not a bowl scout. But if we can win our last two games [against Rutgers and Louisiana Tech], that would give us twice as many wins as losses [6-3-2], which I think would be appealing to someone." The Mountaineers tied B.C. and lost on a field goal at the end to Syracuse.

Doug Graber, Rutgers (5-4): "Right now, we don't match up well with anybody. Our chances probably aren't good after losing to Cincinnati, but a couple more wins [vs. West Virginia and Temple] and who knows?"