COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Maybe it's too much to expect a winning season.
Maybe a bowl game is just a ridiculous goal, a motivational ploy being floated by the seniors.
Then again, maybe Maryland really has turned a corner.
Jermaine Lewis caught two touchdown passes from Kevin Foley in the first quarter and the defense was resolute throughout, which was more than enough for Maryland to put away Wake Forest, 31-7, and match last season's win total yesterday before 24,787 at Byrd Stadium.
Maryland is 2-2 overall, 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and in coach Mark Duffner's third season has delivered the Terps' best start since 1990, the only season in the past eight when the program had a winning record and went to a bowl game.
For the first time in four years, Maryland has won two in a row. For the first time in four years, the Terps end September with a .500 record. For the first time in four years, they'll go into a game with more wins than the opposition.
Clemson, Saturday's foe, is 1-2 and has an offense just as impotent as Wake Forest's (1-3, 0-2). Anyone for Maryland's first three-game winning streak since 1986?
"Maybe today was the turning point," said junior quarterback Scott Milanovich. "It feels like we're on to something pretty good. It feels better than it ever has."
Milanovich wasn't the Terps' starter for the first time in two years, but he finished with numbers as good as, if not better than, Foley's. Foley threw for 149 yards and Milanovich 121 on six fewer attempts. Duffner faces another difficult decision on Saturday's starter, but the quarterbacks weren't the big story yesterday.
The Maryland defense, which last year set an NCAA record for yards allowed, continued to improve, and if the special teams hadn't committed a bonehead play in the second quarter, the Terps would have had their first shutout in five years. Wake Forest's 309 yards were the fewest allowed by the Terps since -- you guessed it, 1990 -- and for the first time since last year's opener, the Maryland defense is averaging fewer than 500 yards allowed per game.
"Last year, we were always coming off the field with our heads down," said Ratcliff Thomas, the sophomore linebacker who led the Terps in tackles for the fourth straight game. "This is so much different. This is fun."
The only discouraging note for Maryland was the hit Lewis took returning a kickoff in the second quarter. He dislocated his left shoulder and will miss at least the Clemson game.
Lewis and Allen Williams, who gained 66 yards on 14 carries, stoked the game-opening drive, a clinical 80-yarder that ended with Foley finding Lewis on a post pattern for 18 yards and a touchdown. The two connected again at the end of the first quarter, when Lewis faked out the Demon Deacons secondary and caught a 38-yard pass in the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
The Terps' defense forced four turnovers, and the first stretched the lead to 17-0. Cornerback A. J. Johnson stripped Roger Pettus on a slant, and tackle Jamie Bragg recovered at the Demon Deacons' 36-yard line on the first play of the second quarter.
As expected, Milanovich entered at that point. His first play was a 24-yard completion to Geroy Simon, but the Terps had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Joe O'Donnell. With the exception of one third-quarter possession in which Milanovich and Mancel Johnson moved Maryland 50 yards to a touchdown in two plays, the offense sputtered the rest of the way.
There was no shortage of big plays from the Terps' defense. When Wake Forest threatened to make a game of it on the first possession of the second half, safety Angel Guerra tracked down running back Stacie Gresham at the end of a 44-yard run and knocked the ball loose inside the Terps' 10-yard line. Terps cornerback Raphael Wall recovered.
The defense provided Maryland's final points, as reserve linebacker Jam Moore, who didn't make the West Virginia trip for disciplinary reasons, deflected Rusty LaRue's pass at the Demon Deacons' 10-yard line. Safety Wade Inge settled under the pop-up and returned it to the 1.
Wide receiver Richard Roberts ran the short-yardage offense in place of the injured Brian Cummings, and handed off to freshman Buddy Rodgers for the touchdown with 10:22 to go.
Wake Forest's only points came in the second quarter, after the Terps had forced a punt. Maryland had 12 men on the field, however, and the 15-yard penalty gave the Demon Deacons a first down at the Terps' 21. LaRue passed 7 yards to Adam Dolder for the touchdown.
Maryland also had a touchdown erased by a penalty, when an illegal block wiped out an 80-yard punt return by Lewis after the Demon Deacons' initial possession went nowhere.
The positives far outweighed the negatives, however, and Duffner even allowed himself a smile in the postgame media briefing.
"It feels good to win, and it feels good to win two in a row," Duffner said. "We probably had our best week of practice since we've been here."
Michael Westbrook made a diving 64-yard touchdown catch of a tipped Hail Mary pass from Kordell Stewart on the final play, giving seventh-ranked Colorado a 27-26 victory over No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor.
In other games:
Towson 51 Ch. Southern 0
Knoxville 22 Morgan 13
Miss. State 24 Tennessee 21
Nebraska 70 Pacific 21
Penn State 55 Rutgers 27
Fla. State 31 N. Carolina 18
Wisconsin 62 Indiana 13
Wash. State 21 UCLA 0
Duke 27 Ga. Tech 12
NEXT FOR MARYLAND
When: Saturday, at Clemson, S.C.