COLLEGE PARK - Randy Starks learned early this season that playing a good game simply wasn't good enough. Every time Maryland's junior nose tackle lined up, he not only had to be great, he had to dominate.
Good enough was how he played in the Terps' season opener against Northern Illinois, a 20-13 loss. Afterward, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen sat Starks down and had a little chat.
"He just told me that I had to play at a higher level," Starks said. "He didn't feel like I was playing bad, he just wanted more from me."
Friedgen's talk seems to have worked. Despite facing double-teams around "80 percent of the time," Starks has been a rock in the middle of Maryland's defense. His 60 tackles are third on the team. But the last four games, he's been scary good, notching 3.5 sacks and 30 tackles. After making eight stops in last week's 27-17 win over Virginia, including three tackles behind the line of scrimmage, Starks was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week.
"I think Randy Starks is the best [defensive tackle] we've played against this year," said Virginia coach Al Groh.
That's the kind of praise Starks was hoping to hear this season. At 6 feet 4, 305 pounds, Starks has the size and athleticism that excites NFL scouts, but last year as a sophomore, he was only brilliant for stretches, and admittedly, he coasted sometimes on his superior talent. That hasn't happened this year, Friedgen said.
"Since the first game, I've been very proud of the way Randy has played," Friedgen said. "He's proved what kind of player he can be."
Suter's not the same
Steve Suter has plenty of fond memories from last season's N.C. State game. In the 24-21 win, he scored a touchdown on a 64-yard reverse, and set Maryland up for the game-winning field goal with a 36-yard catch.
"I was really excited to contribute because it was such a big win," Suter said.
Suter, however, is the first to admit that he's not the same player he was a year ago. Injuries have limited the Terps' talented receiver and return man all year, and Suter said he's almost certain he'll have surgery on his left knee after the regular season, which would hopefully allow him to be healthy for a bowl game.
"It's been frustrating," said Suter, who has 23 receptions for 335 yards. "Mostly because I've felt like I should be doing more to help the team. I feel like it's been getting worse with the cold weather. My knees are getting a little woozy."
Equally as frustrating has been Suter's lack of running room on punt returns. After tying an NCAA mark last year with four returns for touchdowns, Suter has only one this year and is averaging 8.0 yards a return.
"Teams have been kicking the ball out of bounds a little bit on us," Suter said. "If you look at our [net punt return yardage], it's not that bad. We just haven't been getting a lot of chances."
Waiting on Merriman
Shawne Merriman missed his third straight day of practice with a concussion. Friedgen said Merriman told him he'd been cleared to practice today, but Friedgen said he'd "have to wait and see."