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Terps reach crossroads, look for direction


COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden has been having nightmares all week. Every time he looks at the tape of last Saturday's 30-17 loss to West Virginia, he seems to find another call by the officials that hurt his team's chances of winning the non-conference game.

Many of the crucial calls in Morgantown, W.Va., last week appeared to go against Maryland. And the offensive line already had several players battered and bruised just two weeks into the season.

But the bottom line is Maryland (1-1) took a step backward against the Mountaineers, leaving the Terps at an important crossroads in the fourth season under Vanderlinden.

The Terps can head north by first trouncing Middle Tennessee State tomorrow night, then winning at least four of eight Atlantic Coast Conference games for a 6-5 record.

Or they can go south and mar what started as a promising season spiced by all the high preseason Heisman hopes for LaMont Jordan. Even Vanderlinden has said all along that he should start winning in his fourth season.

Why was West Virginia a step back?

When Maryland shut out West Virginia, 33-0, last season, it was the first significant victory for Vanderlinden in three years, and he followed that up four weeks later with an impressive 45-7 rout over North Carolina. Two significant wins in four weeks and the Maryland fans were loving life a little, even though the Terps would go on to lose their last four games for a 5-6 finish.

At least there was hope that Maryland had moved ahead, or at least even, with a West Virginia and a North Carolina. Those are two important middle-of-the-road teams on Maryland's schedule that it must beat to move forward.

The task against West Virginia and North Carolina this season was more challenging because both games are on the road in tough places to play. But there can be no excuse last week for 10 penalties for 65 yards against West Virginia and a seemingly lack of intensity in the first half when Maryland fell behind, 20-3.

There also was a somewhat surprising decision by Vanderlinden in the first quarter to bring in backup kicker Vedad Siljkovic for his first-ever field-goal attempt, a 44-yard try with the game scoreless and Maryland needing early momentum with 5:40 left in the half. Siljkovic missed while senior kicker Brian Kopka watched from the sidelines.

Kopka was only 1-for-4 from 40 to 49 yards last season, but he has the experience in tough game situations. It might have been better to give Siljkovic his first test under fire in a game such as tomorrow night against Middle Tennessee State.

Now, to head north the Terps must double their number of two ACC victories last season with a team that obviously misses offensive linemen Brad Messina and Jamie Wu badly and nose guard Delbert Cowsette.

Both the offensive and defensive lines were outplayed by West Virginia. To reach 4-4 in the league, Maryland most likely has to beat Duke on the road, Wake Forest at home, a vengeful North Carolina on the road and N.C. State at home. It would take major upsets to defeat Florida State at home and Clemson on the road and minor upsets to beat Virginia on the road and Georgia Tech at home.

When Vanderlinden was asked about the tough ACC task yesterday, he said, "I'm not even thinking about that now. We've only lost one game against a much-improved West Virginia team, and we beat a good Temple team. Both of those teams have excellent run defenses, which goes against what we do best.

"Our entire team feels badly about the way we played in the first half against West Virginia. But they're determined to work hard and make up for it. I truly believe our offensive line will get better like we have in the past and defensive line just needs a little charge to get going."

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