- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Maryland cornerback Tony Okanlawon has been a lighting rod for criticism the past few seasons. The senior from DeMatha High was beaten often last year and was the poster child of a porous unit that routinely gave up big plays.

When the defensive line failed to apply pressure last season, quarterbacks had plenty of time to pick apart Okanlawon and fellow cornerback and target of ridicule Curome Cox.

Some of the criticism of Okanlawon was legitimate. Sometimes when the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder was in position, he would turn the wrong way or get outjumped for a ball and a big play would result.

However, things may have turned around for Okanlawon. He had perhaps the best game of his career in Saturday's 23-7 season-opening win over North Carolina. The Nigerian had the second interception of his career which ended a potential go-ahead drive by the Tar Heels midway through the third quarter. He also broke up two passes and did not yield a significant gain.

"I thought Tony O played a great game," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "I knew our safeties were solid. I thought [safety] Randall [Jones] and Tony and [safety] Rod Littles played very well… . I think [the secondary] is a strength of our team."

The defensive backfield allowed the unit to play another potential rusher close to the line to further fluster North Carolina quarterback Ronald Curry with a variety of blitzes. The Terps had four sacks and three interceptions on the day and the previously-besieged corners shed some notoriety.

"It's a wonderful feeling to see these guys come a long way after kind of being the scapegoats," said Tony Jackson, who had a pick along with linebacker Mike Whaley and Okanlawon.

Prohibitive favorite

The Terps are more than a three-touchdown favorite heading into Saturday's home game with Eastern Michigan, a Mid-American conference team that doesn't know who will be its quarterback. Starting quarterback Jeff Crooks has been injured and Eagles coach Jeff Woodruff said he will hold an open competition this week.

Maryland is riding high after a huge, emotional win and the natural reaction would be a letdown with such an unheralded opponent coming into Byrd Stadium. Friedgen is quick to point out previous upsets by MAC teams, including Ohio shocking Maryland in 1997.

"We haven't won enough to be overconfident about anything," said Littles, reciting the party line of "one game at a time."

While the Terps may not be cocky, they are well aware of having a favorable schedule the first half of the season. Maryland plays host to a struggling West Virginia team next Saturday, and then likely will be favored to win at traditional ACC-lightweight Wake Forest before a suspect Virginia team comes to Byrd on Oct. 6.

"The schedule is set up for us to build every week," Littles said. The Terps will face ranked teams Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson in the second half of the season.. "We'll just count them up at the end of the season. Some we'll win. Some we'll lose. Maybe by that time we'll be a good football team."

Singing a happy tune

Friedgen visited the pep band during the preseason, and sang the school's alma mater with the group. As a Maryland alum, Friedgen knew the fight song, and promised to sing with them again after the Terps' first win.

"I told them the next time I was going to sing the fight song was about 4 o'clock on Sept. 1st," said Friedgen, who rushed across the field to where the band and students were seated after Saturday's win. "I'm a man of my word. It was a little out of character, but I went over there. I didn't know they were going to have a podium there or a microphone. I'm embarrassed. I see it on TV, and I say 'Oh, you idiot.' "

Extra points

Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson was named the ACC's Defensive Lineman of the Week after recording 12 tackles. Brooks Barnard was selected the league's Specialist of the Week after posting a 50.4 yard average over eight punts … Eastern Michigan was 3-8 last year, and defeated Southeast Missouri State 16-12 last week… . Maryland was 8-for-18 on third downs, including 6-for-6 in the decisive fourth quarter. The eight conversions were the most since last season's opener against Temple.

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