COLLEGE PARK -- There are several reasons why Maryland added some wrinkles to its offense.
The run-and-shoot, with its one back and four receivers, reached a low in the middle of last season, when the Terps scored just one touchdown in a four-game span and blew their bowl chances. After some early-season success, the running game again was missing in action, and there was too much pressure on the quarterback.
There is another reason, however, that a tight end and a fullback were incorporated into Maryland's multiple offense last spring. Additional blockers for that unit have meant more meaningful practice against the running game for the defense, which must stop the run if the Terps are going to go anywhere this season.
Maryland opens the season Saturday (7 p.m.) at Byrd Stadium against Northern Illinois, which revolves around senior tailback Charles Talley. He was the 10th-leading rusher in major-college football last year, when he had 1,540 yards.
Talley, 6 feet and 229 pounds, operates behind a huge offensive line, and he'll bid to become the third Huskies back to lead the nation in rushing. LeShon Johnson was the most recent, gaining 1,976 yards in 1993.
Northern Illinois will be good preparation for the Atlantic Coast Conference, where it's the year of the running back. Florida State's Warrick Dunn and Virginia's Tiki Barber are being touted for the Heisman Trophy, but Clemson's Raymond Priester had the best yards-per-game figure in the ACC, where the top nine ground-gainers return.
"We've always been focused on stopping the run and making the other team put it in the air," defensive end Al Wallace said. "This year, that's been emphasized even more, and our offense has helped us get ready for that.
"In other years, we had to practice against the passing game so much, we got a little off track. Going against a first-team offense that includes a tight end and fullback in practice, that's helped us prepare for what we're going to see on Saturdays. I used to have doubts about whether we could go toe-to-toe against a team like Clemson. I don't anymore."
Thomas streak endangered
The defense could be without its leader, outside linebacker Ratcliff Thomas, against Northern Illinois. Thomas suffered a slight shoulder separation in practice Sunday, and coach Mark Duffner said, "There's a better chance of him not playing than there is that he'll play."
Wallace said "that if you know Ratcliff, you know he'll play."
A senior from Alexandria, Va., Thomas nailed down a starting position in preseason camp as a true freshman in 1993, and rarely has been out of the lineup since. He's led Maryland in tackles each of the last three seasons. If he can't make his 34th straight start against Northern Illinois, junior Brett White will go in his place.
Elsewhere on the injury front, Buddy Rodgers missed both scrimmages with a pulled quadriceps muscle, but the Terps' leading rusher will play. Kicker Joe O'Donnell also has a pulled muscle. He'll handle field goals and Brad Rhodes will kick off, the same arrangement they had most of last season.
Five-year high for tickets
None of the five teams that visit Byrd Stadium made it to a bowl last season, but a big marketing push and the Terps' first winning season since 1990 allowed Maryland to reach a five-year high in the number of season tickets sold and season-ticket revenue. Maryland has sold more than 16,500 season tickets, up from last year's total of 16,381.
Even though some students won't be on campus for the fall semester until next week and it's the earliest opener in Maryland history, officials are hoping for a crowd in excess of 30,000.
Mitch Watkins, a redshirt junior from Salisbury's James M. Bennett High, is the starting right guard on the first depth chart posted by Duffner since last spring. He is not on scholarship. Starting tight end Craig Fitzgerald, a former walk-on, was put on scholarship this summer. . . . Red-shirt freshman Ken Mastrole has climbed to No. 2 quarterback. . . . True freshmen Harold Westley and Lewis Sanders will play, at least on special teams. . . . This will be Maryland's first game against Northern Illinois, and the first ever in Division I-A in which both athletic directors are women. Debbie Yow is in her third year at Maryland, and Cary Groth runs the show at Northern Illinois.
Pub Date: 8/28/96
The rush is on
Maryland will face a number of proven running backs this season. They're listed below, with their 1995 rushing totals:
Player ................ Team ............ 1995
Charles Talley .... Northern Illinois ... 1,540
Tiki Barber ....... Virginia ............ 1,397
Raymond Priester .. Clemson ............. 1,286
Warrick Dunn ...... Florida State ....... 1,242
C. J. Williams .... Georgia Tech ........ 1,138
Leon Johnson ...... North Carolina ........ 963
Tremayne Stephens.. North Carolina State .. 849
Laymarr Marshall .. Duke ......... ........ 708