COLLEGE PARK -- Does Maryland's football team know how to win?
That question was posed to first-year coach Ron Vanderlinden yesterday. Instead of discussing Saturday's visit to No. 5 Florida State, he spent most of a news conference rehashing his debut with the Terps, an upsetting 21-14 loss to Ohio that indicated that the rebuilding job he's overseeing might take a tad longer than he expected.
Maryland had the ball longer than Ohio, had more yards and fewer turnovers than the Bobcats and committed only three penalties, and still managed to waste a 14-0 lead.
"I believe our players want to win," Vanderlinden said.
Do they know how to?
"They're learning," Vanderlinden said. "That comes with time, heat and pressure."
Instead of finding a way to win, a team with 12 first-year starters found a way to lose. Maryland players weren't available to speak with the media yesterday, but they're tired of talking about the program's failures anyway.
The upperclassmen have experienced one feel-good month, the 4-0 start to the 1995 season, but the Terps have since lost 12 of 19 games. Since beating Virginia in 1990, Maryland has dropped 23 straight games to ranked teams.
That streak figures to grow the next two weeks against the Seminoles and No. 7 North Carolina. The majority of ACC teams appear to have improved, and the Terps had better grow up in a hurry. Maryland started freshman Doug Patterson at flanker and used 11 other freshmen, and the last time the Terps were this green, they went 2-9 in 1993.
Vanderlinden said his first-year players did fine, and talked more about his own mistakes than the ones committed on the field. He was critical of his team's effort and inability to put away a visitor from one of the two conferences that isn't part of the Bowl Alliance.
"There's a tendency when you don't have the mental maturity to let up," he said. "We have to learn how to finish games. We talk about this every day, that the finish is more important than the start.
"As the game went on, their [Ohio's] players played harder than ours. That's a tough thing for a coach to say. You've got to have the mentality that you're going to scratch, claw and fight."
Beyond the possibility that he'll reopen the kicking competition between Brad Rhodes, who missed a pivotal 23-yard field-goal attempt, and freshman Brian Kopka, Vanderlinden doesn't plan any major shake-ups.
"We'll keep drilling into them about how fundamentally sound you have to be on every play," Vanderlinden said. "I don't think that's totally sunk in. To the degree we have to execute, it's still not there.
"I still believe that this team is capable of big things. I saw enough to believe that we can be a good team, but we have to learn how to win."
While Vanderlinden wouldn't retreat from his preseason optimism, athletic director Debbie Yow appeared to be in a damage control mode. She asked to address the media yesterday, and in effect said that Maryland fans might have to wait several more years until they get a winner.
"Rebuilding a football program is not an event, it's a process," Yow said. "It will mean two to three very good recruiting years. To me, there should be no surprise to that. The coaches inherited a program that was 5-6, and it lost 13 starters when you include Mitch Watkins [an injured offensive lineman].
"It's not a seasoned, experienced team in general, and it's
important that that be said."
Yow was asked if the Ohio loss had changed her expectations for this season.
"No," she said. "I felt all along, and indicated so to [Maryland
president] Dr. [William] Kirwan, that winning five games would be a very successful season."
And what about Vanderlinden's bowl aspirations?
"Coach Vanderlinden has been very gracious about what he's said," Yow said. "He's trying to build confidence in what's left of the starting lineup."
Maryland has lost 23 straight games to teams ranked by the Associated Press, the fifth-longest streak in the history of football at ACC schools.
Team ...... Losses .... Seasons
Virginia ...... 41 .... 1949-83
Duke .......... 31 .... 1972-89
Wake Forest ... 30 .... 1980-96
Wake Forest ... 24 .... 1955-74
Maryland ...... 23 .... 1991-97*
Pub Date: 9/09/97