- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2003

Once again Maryland’s offensive backfield is thinner than a supermodel, so it’s fortunate that the Terrapins are playing a weak opponent tonight.

Running back Bruce Perry will be limited at best at Eastern Michigan after aggravating his high ankle sprain, and Sam Maldonado has been suspended indefinitely for reportedly failing a drug test. That leaves Josh Allen, who has started the first four games, and seldom-used reserves against the Eagles. However, the Terps are 34-point favorites against a team they have twice routed without allowing a touchdown.

The midweek setbacks tempered rising optimism that the Terps finally had overcome a series of injuries that crippled the offense in the opening two losses before improved health led to blowout victories over The Citadel and West Virginia. Though Maryland should still manhandle Eastern Michigan (1-3) given its 35-pound advantage along the line against the Eagles’ defensive front, the Terps won’t get a chance to improve their offensive rhythm in the final non-ACC tuneup.

“We’re playing better, but there’s a lot of room for improvement,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We still have too many penalties. We’re still dropping too many passes.”

The backfield seemed the Terps’ strength after they gained 260 yards rushing against West Virginia last week. That let quarterback Scott McBrien deliver his best effort because he no longer was shouldering the entire offense. With right guard Lamar Bryant back against the Mountaineers after missing three games with a broken ankle, the Terps finally were able to run inside consistently.

“It helps Scott when we get the running game going and he can play action and [scramble],” Friedgen said.

Maryland’s diverse backfield, featuring inside running by Perry and Maldonado’s and Allen’s outside speed, confuses defenses. Now the Terps largely will rely upon Allen’s quickness while Mario Merrills and J.P. Humber should share the second-half duties if the Terps as expected own a huge lead.

Eastern Michigan’s 3-5-3 defense presents versatility against the run or pass, but the Eagles allowed 372 yards rushing in a 39-7 loss to Navy on Sept.13. Eastern Michigan’s run defense permitted 4.6 yards a carry in the opening four games.

Allen sparked the Terps’ 61-0 romp over The Citadel on Sept.13 with a 72-yard touchdown on the opening play. Allen starts his fourth game over the oft-injured Perry. His team-high 266 yards and three touchdowns have included a smattering of impressive runs. Merrills is a more physical runner with 46 yards and one touchdown. Humber has 24 yards on six carries.

Bryant said it doesn’t matter who is in the backfield. The linemen consider them all as fast as … turtles.

“The person behind us is the slowest individual on the face of the Earth, and we must open a hole for this individual,” Bryant said. “That’s how we block. We don’t care who it is.”

Expected rain also could limit Maryland’s passing game. Friedgen called bad weather “a tremendous equalizer.” The Terps may use receiver Steve Suter for more quick slants while increasing passes to the tight ends. Friedgen wants to improve the dropback passes after mixed downfield success this season, but poor footing could shorten the offense to mid-range passes.

Perhaps Maryland’s only motivation against Eastern Michigan is avenging an earlier loss to fellow Mid-American Conference member Northern Illinois. The Terps learned not to overlook teams from the less prominent conference after their 20-13 overtime loss to the Huskies.

“It’s their bowl shot,” said Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney, a MAC head coach for 10 years at Bowling Green. “They’re not only playing for their own pride, but for the Mid-American Conference. They’re saying their colleagues did it, they can do it.”

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