COLLEGE PARK - Maryland sophomore wide receiver Steve Suter's most memorable break last season was one he would rather forget.
But a year after fracturing the index finger on his left hand and missing the final eight games of the Terrapins' 10-2 season, Suter is showing a knack for breaking into the clear as a return specialist.
Take last night's 44-14 rout over the visiting Akron Zips at Byrd Stadium. For a brief moment late in the first quarter, after Akron quarterback Charlie Frye and wide receiver Nick Sparks had combined on a 65-yard touchdown to cut the Terps' lead to 14-7, the Zips had climbed back into the contest.
Suter quickly put the Terps back on course for a blowout with an 81-yard punt return for the first touchdown of his collegiate career.
The play did not begin smoothly. Suter bobbled Andy Jerdon's punt at the Maryland 19. He secured the ball as he started up the middle, burst between two good blocks, then broke into the clear before putting two fakes on Jerdon. That gave the Terps a 21-7 lead. Maryland was never threatened again.
"I was real anxious. I had a chance to take it to the house on the one before. I get excited back there sometimes," said Suter, 5 feet 9, 187 pounds, who played at North Carroll High School. "This is my knack. I'm the return specialist. It's my opportunity to change the momentum of the game."
Suter did not catch a pass and returned one punt for 3 yards as a redshirt freshman before getting injured. Against Notre Dame in last week's season-opening, 22-0 loss, Suter was one of the few Terps to make a play with the ball. He returned a kickoff 51 yards and had 86 return yards overall.
"I've been saying that Steve is a big-play guy ever since two-a-days," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We were actually looking for a fake [punt] on that play," he said of the touchdown. "Once we saw it wasn't a fake, we went to a middle return. Once Steve made a couple of guys miss, he just made a great run after that. I think we're going to be better than we were in that area last year."
New kids in the zone
The Terps are relying on some inexperience to serve them this year, and the greenhorns did their part in a major way in last night's rout.
Of Maryland's five touchdowns - all generated in the first half - four of them were scored by Terps who enjoyed their first career trips to the end zone.
Besides Suter, the newcomers included quarterback Scott McBrien, redshirt freshman receiver Derrick Fenner and senior tailback Chris Downs, who got the first start of his Division I career.
After Suter had his moment, Downs capped his 58-yard rushing performance with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, giving the Terps a 35-7 bulge with 4:14 left in the half.
Harrison's hard knock
The hit-of-the-night award went to wide receiver Latrez Harrison, after he laid out Akron outside linebacker Diontre Earl with 9:04 left in the third quarter and the Terps in command, 38-7.
Earl was giving chase to McBrien as he tucked the ball away and ran into the left flat. That's when Harrison blind-sided him, separating Earl from his helmet and leaving the victim on the ground to collect his thoughts for several minutes.
Not coincidentally, the hit came after McBrien had been victimized by a roughing-the-passer penalty for the second time.
"Not a bad hit for a former quarterback, was it?" Friedgen said. "I was a little worried about [Earl]. It was a clean hit. I was worried that he swallowed his tongue. I've been there. You don't know where it's coming from and all the sudden it's lights out."
Last night's announced attendance of 48,057 marked the highest at a home opener since the Terps drew 50,750 to their 1985 debut against Penn State. Akron set a record for most penalties (16) by a Maryland opponent. ... Maryland did not commit a turnover for the first time since last Nov. 3 against Troy State.
Next for Terps
Opponent:No. 5 Florida State
Site:Byrd Stadium, College Park
When:Saturday, 7:45 p.m.