- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

MIAMI Maryland's football program has waited 25 years for this day. It took Ralph Friedgen one season to deliver.

Maryland's miraculous season will end tonight in Miami, where the sixth-ranked Terrapins meet No. 5 Florida in the Orange Bowl. The Terps are in their first bowl in a decade and their first New Year's bowl since the 1977 Cotton Bowl. Maryland enters Pro Player Stadium as heavy underdogs looking to pull off their greatest stunner yet.

"It's the biggest game we've played in a long time here at Maryland," said Friedgen, the Terps' first-year coach. "[A win] would be a good storybook ending. It would make a good movie someday. I wonder who they would get to play me. Jackie Gleason is not alive anymore."

The Terps, who snapped a run of five consecutive losing seasons by going 10-1 in the regular season and captured their first ACC championship in 16 years, face a group of Gators (9-2) mired in controversy. Florida, which came to Miami with questionable motivation after losing its bid for a national championship, has benched All-American quarterback Rex Grossman. The Heisman Trophy runner-up was one of three starters and five players overall disciplined for breaking curfew. Grossman, defensive end Bobby McCray and center Dave Jorgensen will not start as punishment.

Brock Berlin will start instead of Grossman. Berlin, who is rumored to be transferring to Miami after this season, has played mainly in mop-up situations. The sophomore completed 36 of 60 passes for 483 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception. Berlin will make his first start this year after coming to Florida as Gatorade's national high school player of the year in 1999.

"We'll give Brock an opportunity to play the game," said Florida coach Steve Spurrier, who said he has no timetable on when to insert Grossman. "We never start a guy and say, 'You screw up, you're out the next series.' It takes a bunch of screw-ups before we take somebody out."

Friedgen downplayed the significance of a different starting quarterback, and expects Grossman to play the majority of the game.

"I don't think it affects us at all because the other guy's pretty good too," he said. "Actually, someone told me he had better stats than Grossman. If he had better stats than Grossman, he's real good."

Maryland, which will end the longest layoff of any bowl team at 46 days, will start freshman Domonique Foxworth at cornerback, but Friedgen expects to play Tony Okanlawon as well. All-ACC guard Todd Wike will not start and may not play due to a contusion in his right foot. Freshman Kyle Schmitt will start in his spot.

The Terps went through a one-hour walk-through at Pro Player yesterday afternoon and held meetings last night after changing hotels. They left their beachfront accommodations for a more-secluded spot closer to the stadium.

"I want them to be totally focused for 24 hours on the job at hand," Friedgen said. "I don't want any distractions."

The biggest problem Maryland faces in the game will be slowing Florida's passing game that features explosive receivers. The Gators' lead the nation in total passing offense with 405.2 yards per game, and are second in scoring at 43.8 points and total yards with 527.5.

The Gators have perhaps the nation's best receiving group in All-American Jabar Gaffney, who averages 108.3 yards receiving and has 13 touchdown receptions, Reche Caldwell (98.3 yards receiving) and Taylor Jacobs. Maryland will gamble with its blitz-oriented defense in hopes of disrupting the quarterback.

"You are going to have to try to get pressure on Grossman," said Friedgen, whose team ranks second nationally with 24 interceptions. "Therein lies the problem. Because once you pressure him, you are single coverage on their wide receivers. They have so many good wide receivers, it creates a real mismatch. If you sit back and try to double [cover] people, he has a great ability to see coverages and pick you apart. I think you have to kind of mix pressure and not pressure, try to get more balance."

Another key will be keeping Florida's offense off the field with a ball-control offense, with ACC Offensive Player of the Year tailback Bruce Perry (112.9 yards rushing average) and an option game Florida hasn't seen before.

"It will be important to stay in our game plan over the course of the football game, and not get into a situation where we have to play catch-up, and try to keep pace with their ability to score," Maryland offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. "The two teams that defeated Florida were Auburn and Tennessee. Both of the those teams had success running the ball against Florida."

The Gators' secondary has a considerable speed advantage over Maryland's receivers. The Terps plan to use a controlled passing game to get Perry and others into the open field as a way to supplement the ground attack.

"Florida's secondary is very athletic," Maryland quarterback Shaun Hill said. "The receivers are going to have to be on top of their game and run crisp routes and I have to throw the ball in an area where only they can come down with it."

On paper this game is a mismatch. Florida is loaded with NFL prospects, four All-Americans and a gaudy amount of team speed and depth. The Terps have one All-American and sure-fire NFL-prospect in middle linebacker E.J. Henderson. Maryland has limited depth and limited speed. Many feel the team has already achieved as much as it can.

How do the Terps neutralize talent?

"Heart," Maryland receiver Guilian Gary said. "They have great speed. The only way to make up for their speed is with heart and play physical. We have to get to Rex Grossman. We have to stretch the field on offense. We have to make big plays. We don't have guys that run a 4.3 [40-yard dash] or 4.4s. We just have guys that can run the same speed every play and wear you down. We're where we are because of heart. We are just going to go out, have fun and enjoy the experience."

The coach who led the Terps out of mediocrity to ACC champions and the Orange Bowl agrees with Gary. Maryland's season has already been an unqualified success, and tonight's result can't deter from that.

"We are going to play with all our hearts and see what happens," Friedgen said. "Nobody expects us to win. So we just need to go out and play loose, have fun, play hard and see what happens."

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