- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

Maryland’s nationally ranked football team dropped its opener through an astounding array of mistakes. From blown blocks to nine penalties, the bewildered Terrapins were shocked by a team they manhandled early.

No.15 Maryland wasn’t overwhelmed in Thursday night’s 20-13 overtime loss at Northern Illinois. If not for all the missed downfield plays and defensive penalties, the Terps easily could have defeated the Huskies. Instead, the rural Illinois school beat its highest-ranked opponent ever before a record Huskie Stadium crowd of 28,018 that feasted on free pregame corn giveaway stirred in boiling vats by pitchforks.

“It’s the little things,” quarterback Scott McBrien said. “We made so many mistakes. Little mistakes. We have to get them cleaned up.”

And quickly. Maryland will visit Florida State next Saturday hoping to avoid an 0-2 start that likely would preclude any chance of reaching a major bowl game. Maryland is 0-13 against the Seminoles, all double-digit losses. Coach Ralph Friedgen is 21-4 without his 0-2 against the Seminoles, games that were lost by a combined 89-41 margin.

Maryland lost its opener last season and two of its first three games before rebounding to win seven straight en route to a 10-3 season and Peach Bowl victory over Tennessee. But this season’s task could be even more daunting if the Terps lose to Florida State.

“We’re going to find out what kind of character we have,” Friedgen said.

Northern Illinois is ranked 48th by Sports Illustrated and is seeking its third straight Mid-American Conference title behind Heisman Trophy candidate Michael Turner, who gained only 90 yards on 30 carries against Maryland. Northern Illinois beat Wake Forest last year and nearly upset Wisconsin, so the nationally televised game didn’t intimidate the Huskies. Instead, Maryland was caught looking past an emerging team.

“We just got a little ahead of ourselves,” linebacker Shawne Merriman said.

The Terps nearly escaped the upset on Nick Novak’s 50-yard field goal with 9:10 remaining for a 13-10 lead. However, a series of reckless Terps penalties allowed Northern Illinois to move downfield to tie with 1:12 remaining and nearly win with 1.3 seconds left on a 27-yard field goal attempt that instead was blocked by safety Curtis Williams.

“We had a lot of foolish penalties that could have gotten us off the field,” Friedgen said.

McBrien was victimized by several downfield drops and a handful of slightly overthrown deep throws. McBrien completed 12 of 24 for 110 yards under steady pressure while his interior line struggled. He even ran nine times for 23 yards, often when receivers were covered. McBrien thrived on the medium-range passes, but receiver Jafar Williams was neutralized after having two receptions on the first drive.

Running back Josh Allen’s 67 yards on 20 carries was surprising given the ease of the opening drive. Maryland quickly led 7-0 on Allen’s 1-yard touchdown run after he gained 22 yards on six carries.

Running back Bruce Perry may return against Florida State after missing three weeks with a high ankle sprain, but the 2001 ACC Offensive Player of the Year likely would have struggled against Northern Illinois given little room inside his normal lanes.

Defensively, Maryland was vulnerable against quick slants as Northern Illinois receiver P.J. Fleck caught 13 passes for 116 yards. While the Terps largely succeeded in bottling up Turner by denying outside lanes, their run commitment left gaps.

Special teams play was positive, though. Punter Adam Podlesh delivered an impressive debut, averaging 45.4 yards on eight attempts, with his 63-yarder Maryland’s longest in three seasons.

Novak continued his three-year reputation as a clutch performer with 46- and 50-yarders.

Return man Steve Suter might be back against Florida State after missing three weeks with a strained hamstring. JoJo Walker combined for 150 yards on 10 returns.

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