Experience factor shapes seasons of Terps and Tigers


The college football season has barely begun and already a couple of area teams have people befuddled.

First, there's the flagship university in the state system, the University of Maryland.

This is the second season for coach Mark Duffner, who was hired at win-starved College Park because he was the winningest coach in the country at Holy Cross.

So Maryland, which was 3-8 last year under Duffner, is 0-3 and more win-starved than ever.

Then there's Towson State, which came within an inch of dropping football three years ago because of financial problems.

The school survived that close call but announced it would, in the future, conduct a non-scholarship program.

No scholarships to give? What good football player would come to Towson when he could get a scholarship at any number of other schools? Surely this would doom football at TSU.

But look at what's happening: The Tigers are off to their best start since 1986. They started with a 42-7 win over Central Connecticut and last Saturday there was a 31-14 victory over Delaware State.

Delaware State has a good football team. For the past three years Delaware State has beaten Towson. The University of Delaware, a perennial NCAA Division I-AA power, won't even play Delaware State.

What's going on at these two schools?

The answer is the same at both: experience. Maryland doesn't have it, and Towson does -- in abundance.

Second-year Towson coach Gordy Combs sat in a meeting room in the football offices yesterday and explained all that while the dean of the Tigers' staff, Rich Bader, drew up blocking schemes for this Saturday's game at Charleston Southern.

"Most of the guys doing the playing for us are either fifth-year seniors or fourth-year juniors," said the self-effacing Combs.

"We haven't given any scholarships to the last two freshman classes, but we still have a lot of veteran players who kept the scholarships they came here on.

"Most of our offense consists of fifth-year players. Our quarterback, Dan Crowley, is a true junior. Our whole defensive line is fifth-year players.

"It makes a tremendous difference to have all that experience. Coaches don't have to tell veteran players everything. They adjust to a lot of things on their own."

At College Park yesterday, Duffner was looking at the other side of the coin.

His Terps are scoring 36 points per game. But their opponents are averaging 48, which is why Maryland is 0-3.

"One reason we're moving the ball and scoring," said Duffner, "is our offensive line is made up of juniors. Their experience helps."

On defense, it's hard to find a junior. Most of the players are freshmen or sophomores. Some played high school ball last year. But Duffner refuses to moan about it, pointing out the positives.

A a coach himself, Towson's Combs understands precisely why Maryland is winless.

"It's like [coach] Mack Brown at North Carolina," Combs said. "He played inexperienced kids his first two years there and he was 1-10. Then he turned it around.

"Mark Duffner will do the same sort of thing. I've been to his practices and Mark is a terrific coach. When his team gets experience, it'll win.

"I know I'm a better coach this year than I was last year. Even though I'd been an assistant here for 19 years, I'd never been a head coach until last year. It's a very different role. What I learned last year helps our football team this year."

What of Towson's football future when the scholarship players on the present team leave?

"We've got 40 freshmen who came here this year without football scholarships," Combs pointed out.

"We've never had the full allotment of scholarships. We've always had to recruit some players who didn't get scholarship aid. Now it just takes a longer period of time to do it."

In 1995 Towson will go into an ECAC non-scholarship I-AA conference that will include schools better known for basketball such as Central Connecticut, Wagner, Monmouth, Iona and St. John's.

And by '95, Mark Duffner will have a veteran team of his own that should contend for the ACC title.

In the meantime, Duffner has no plans to wait until then to win some football games.

"We're going to stop the bleeding next week," Duffner said to Richie Harris on the radio moments after the loss to West Virginia.

To me, that means Duffner thinks he can win Saturday at Virginia Tech. The oddsmakers disagree. Tech is a 12-point favorite.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad