- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

MIAMI — Someday.

But not yet.

That succinctly sums up Maryland's 56-23 licking by unstoppable Florida in last night's 68th and highest-scoring Orange Bowl. Someday the Terrapins may well regain the stature they held nearly half a century ago as one of college football's most consistent winners.

But not yet, and probably not until Ralph Friedgen works his magic on a couple of new recruiting crops down the road.

I wouldn't be surprised if Friedgen, in the postgame gloom, pointed a finger in the general direction of Florida's locker room and told his tattered troops, "That's what you can be and will be if I have anything to say about it."

There were some 23,000 Maryland fans on the premises at Pro Player Stadium, and as most head home today, there should be this considerable consolation: The Terps didn't really lose anything. It would have been nice, it would have been lovely to win, but simply being here was an enormous victory in itself.

Next time the Terps are in a New Year's bowl game, they won't feel that way unless they do win. But for now, nothing can tarnish the magnificent 10-1 regular season wrought in a program that hadn't been to any kind of a bowl in more than a decade and one that straggled and struggled through 5-6 disasters in 1999 and 2000.

Could one rookie coach and his staff make that big a difference? The evidence is before us except that the Fridge would be the first to tell you that players win games. And his players made up what they lacked in size by performing all season with a measure of determination and courage almost as big as their economy-sized coach's frame.

Even last night, confronted by an opponent with all kinds of advantages, the Terps hung in there until the closing moments of the first half, when Florida's frightening aerial game finally wore down their smallish secondary.

Before the kickoff, the crowd went wild when the anthem singer unfurled the phrases "our flag was still there" and "land of the free." But when they got down to the business at hand, most of the bombs bursting in air came from the fists of Gators quarterbacks Brock Berlin and Rex Grossman.

Florida coach Steve Spurrier might or might not have been playing mind games earlier in the week when he said Heisman Trophy runner-up Grossman would not start, and might not play, because he had violated curfew. Whatever Spurrier's motivation and this cranky coach often is difficult to fathom it worked. By halftime, Berlin had tossed one touchdown pass and Grossman two as the Gators pretty much wrapped up matters by bolting to a 28-10 lead.

When it got to 42-10 midway through the third period, a spectator yelled, "Demand a recount!" As we have seen, however, such things take quite awhile in Florida, and the game ran late enough as it was.

In the first half alone, Berlin and Grossman riddled the Terps for 321 yards on the way to setting an Orange Bowl record for airborne assault. The chief target among a flock of elusive receivers was junior Taylor Jacobs, who snatched eight passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns and proved harder to defend than Slick Willie's morals.

The Terps didn't give up, though give them that. After a Berlin-Jacobs strike of 46 yards sent Florida into a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter, Maryland struck back with a bomb of its own, 64 yards from Shaun Hill to Jafar Williams, that provided the fans with two TDs in 12 seconds.

In the second quarter, the Terps threatened to tie it after Berlin's pass bounced off Tony Okanlawan's chest and was intercepted by fellow defender Dennard Wilson, who zigged and zagged 36 yards to the Florida 3. Ultimately, Maryland had to settle for Nick Novak's 20-yard field goal and a 14-10 deficit.

Edwin Pope, the Miami Herald's veteran columnist, speculated in print yesterday that Grossman might be angry enough with Spurrier to transfer to archrival Miami. We'll have to wait awhile on that one, but Grossman didn't exactly dog it after Steve Superior crooked his finger in the second quarter. Instead, he pitched the Gators to two more touchdowns while completing 11 of 14.

At the end of the third quarter, Florida had accumulated 567 yards and a 49-10 lead as many of the red shirts in the stands were replaced by orange and aqua empty seats. But Maryland's fans might have been party to a historic event the last time a Friedgen team loses a game this badly.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't play better and coach better," Friedgen said in his postgame news conference. "But you grow even from an experience as painful as this one. I'll tell you I don't feel real good now. I don't like losing, so I'm not ready to go out and party."

Not this time anyway. But someday, if things break right, the Terps might be the ones doing the postseason pummeling.


But not yet.

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