COLLEGE PARK -- There will be something different at Byrd Stadium on Saturday night: a November football game in which there's more than pride at stake for Maryland.
The Terps rode the passing of Scott Milanovich, the running of Allen Williams and the big plays of linebacker Ratcliff Thomas to an easier-than-it-sounds 38-10 pounding of Tulane yesterday in the middle leg of a three-game homestand, and all it did was set up Maryland's biggest game in four years.
Maryland will finish its home schedule Saturday against twice-beaten North Carolina State, and that Atlantic Coast Conference game is not just the Terps' most important since coach Mark Duffner arrived in 1992, but also their biggest since 1990, the only season in the past eight that they had a winning record and went to a bowl game.
The Terps haven't completely dug out of the rubble of an 0-2 start, but they'll enter November 4-4, the first time they've been .500 this late in the season in four years. Even though they finish at ranked Virginia and Syracuse and a 4-7 record is just as feasible as a bowl game, they're mentioning the B-word again for the first time since a disastrous opener at Duke.
"We think a winning season is very realistic," said Jamie Bragg, the senior defensive tackle who has become a Terps spokesman. "As a team, we haven't written ourselves off. We feel the press and fans have sometimes, and we have to feed off that. The last couple of years, games at this point of the season haven't meant anything, so this is different.
"Losing stinks. This is great."
Maryland doubled last year's win total and needs just one more to equal its number of victories from Duffner's first two seasons. The Terps enjoyed their biggest margin of victory since a 53-23 rout of Clemson at the end of 1992, and they simply had too much talent and incentive for a reeling Tulane (1-7) team that gives new meaning to "The Big Easy," an affectation for its location, New Orleans.
Milanovich moved the Terps to three first-half touchdowns after the short-yardage offense wasted a 65-yard drive on the game's opening possession. For more than 59 minutes, the Maryland defense had more points than Tulane, as Thomas scored the first touchdown by a Maryland defender in five years and the Green Wave's only touchdown came with 34 seconds left.
"We lost the ball on our first possession, but we never lost our composure, we never lost our confidence," Duffner said. "The way we came back from that was reflective of the way we played the whole afternoon."
Milanovich completed six of his first eight passes and finished 25 of 35 for 291 yards and three touchdowns. The passing scores were spread around: Redshirt freshman superback Brian Underwood turned a shovel pass into a 23-yarder and a 14-0 lead; outside wide receiver Jermaine Lewis won a jump ball for a 35-yarder and a 21-0 spread; and inside wide receiver Russ Weaver made it 38-3 on a toss from the Tulane 6 early in the fourth quarter.
Williams, the senior superback, needed just eight carries to get his second straight 100-yard rushing game and third in the last six. His total helped the Terps match their season-high of 491 yards total offense.
The Terps were disappointed that only 24,456 turned out for homecoming, and there were other negatives that Duffner will point out in tonight's film session.
Tulane, one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, broke off gains of 20, 37, 26, 39 and 48 yards in the two middle periods. The Terps committed a season-high 10 penalties, and the offense produced just one touchdown in the second half. For the second straight week, Brian Cummings and Black Thunder, the short-yardage offense, lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line.
Maryland, however, was too confident to dwell on mistakes.
Cummings threw away an ill-conceived pitch on second-and-goal the Tulane 4, but he got Black Thunder in the end zone six minutes later, as true freshman Buddy Rodgers bounced over from the 3 for a 7-0 lead.
The defense, meanwhile, bent but never broke in the first half and came up with the day's top highlight on the third play of the third quarter. Tulane coach Buddy Teevens benched starting quarterback Tracey Watts and began the second half with Craig Randall. A bull-rush by Bragg resulted in a 10-yard sack on second down, and everyone came on third-and-18 from the Green Wave 12.
Linebacker Gene Gray was the first to get to Randall, who lost the ball. Thomas, the Terps' leading tackler for the second straight year, scooped it on the 7 and saw nothing but red shirts between him and the end zone.
It was the first touchdown for the Maryland defense since 1989, when Mike Thomas brought an interception back 26 yards in a similarly lopsided win over North Carolina. Two Tulane possessions later, Thomas' interception of Watts set up a 33-yard field goal by Joe O'Donnell.
"That's a coach's dream and hope to score on defense," Duffner said. "Any time that happens, it's a momentum builder."
Of course, when Thomas scored the Terps already were well ahead. And when Duffner spoke, he already had an N.C. State media guide in hand.
Yesterday's victory put Maryland at .500 after eight games for the first time since 1990, the last year the Terps finished with a winning record.
Year .. .. 8 games .. .. Finish
1990 .. .. 5-3 ... .. .. 6-5-1
.. .. 2-6 ... .. .. 2-9
.. .. 2-6 ... .. .. 3-8
.. .. 1-7 ... .. .. 2-9
.. .. 4-4