COLLEGE PARK -- The lesson for Maryland last night was that the Terps still aren't strong enough to go through the motions against anyone.
The Terps began coach Mark Duffner's fifth season as 23-point favorites over Northern Illinois.
Duffner wanted to rest ace running back Buddy Rodgers, but he couldn't.
He wanted a vanilla offense, but he was still ordering up tutti-frutti in the fourth quarter.
Forced by a three-point halftime deficit to improve its lineup, emotion and play-calling, Maryland came out from the break a different team and rolled to a 30-6 victory over the Huskies before 32,517 at Byrd Stadium.
Maybe Maryland can take it easy next Saturday, when it beats up on Alabama-Birmingham, the newest member of Division I-A football. It expected a walk last night, but it didn't get one, as the Terps needed a jump start from Rodgers and Delbert Cowsette, who will never forget his college debut.
The Terps offense was shut down for the fifth straight possession to start the second half, and the anxiety level was rising when Cowsette and linebacker Brett White teamed on the play that turned the game.
White, starting in place of veteran linebacker Ratcliff Thomas, who had his 33-game streak as a starter stopped by a dislocated shoulder, stripped Northern Illinois quarterback Brandon Barker. The ball bounced right to Cowsette, a 6-foot-1, 265-pound tackle who rambled 49 yards for the touchdown that gave the Terps a 9-6 lead with 9: 56 left in the third quarter.
From there, the Terps flexed their superior talent, and also opened up the playbook in their new multiple offense to avoid what was shaping up as an embarrassing upset.
The Huskies, an independent in a transition year from the Big West Conference to the Mid-American, haven't had a winning season since 1990, but they had Maryland off balance early in the coaching debut of Joe Novak, a 51-year-old journeyman assistant who had spent the last 12 seasons as defensive coordinator at Illinois.
He cooked up some schemes that troubled Maryland quarterback Brian Cummings and company, until Rodgers got in the game.
Rodgers, the junior from Providence, R.I., who last season had the best rushing total by a Maryland back in a decade, was hampered in training camp by a pulled thigh muscle. He did not play in the first half, when Maryland's new-look offense alternated Brian Underwood and true freshman Harold Westley at tailback.
On the second play of the second half, Rodgers gained 18 yards. Then, after Cowsette's 15 seconds of fame, Rodgers aided a 70-yard touchdown drive that ended with Cummings going the last 8 yards on a naked bootleg.
Maryland wore down Northern Illinois with its depth, but still needed some gadget plays to get its third touchdown. Geroy Simon went 27 yards on a reverse and Cummings' screen to Westley got 43, setting up Kendall Ogle's 1-yard scoring run with 9: 02 left.
Westley closed out the scoring, going 7 yards with 3: 47 left to cap a five-play, 64-yard drive.
Underwood gained 74 yards on eight carries and Rodgers 55 on six, as Maryland made good on getting more balance in the offense. The Terps were out-gained through three quarters, but on the plus side they limited Charles Talley, the No. 10 rusher in the nation, to 55 yards on 22 carries.
The Terps couldn't sustain a drive in the first half, when they gained no more than two first downs on any of their five possessions. Their only score came courtesy of the defense, after junior end Eric Ogbogu recovered a Northern Illinois fumble at the Huskie 27-yard line on the game's third play.
Cummings got a first down at the 15 on a quarterback sneak, but the offense went backward from there, with two penalties and a timeout needed to clear up some formation confusion. Joe O'Donnell's 27-yard field goal put Maryland on top 3-0 with 11: 22 left in the first quarter, but Northern Illinois dominated the rest of the half.
The Huskies outmuscled and out-finessed the Terps on a 15-play, 81-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Barker, their junior quarterback, picked on what is supposed to be one of Maryland's strengths, its cornerbacks, during the drive. A. J. Johnson took the bait on an option pitch to Charles Talley that went for nine yards. Chad Scott was beaten on a 27-yarder to flanker Deon Mitchell.
Talley, who gained 1,540 yards last year, completed the drive with a 1-yard dive, but Northern Illinois never got off its point-after attempt after a faulty snap, and settled for a 6-3 lead with 4: 34 left in the half.
Pub Date: 9/01/96