Friday, September 5, 2003

Florida State coach Bobby Bowden wants to lay a goose egg on Maryland tomorrow night.

“That’s one of my favorite stats,” he said. “I’d rather beat somebody 10-0 than 55-50; 10-0 seems so dominating. The other team can’t score, I like a shutout.”

So the coach must have really enjoyed last Saturday’s season opener. His 11th-ranked Seminoles, who will welcome Maryland (0-1) to Tallahassee’s Doak Campbell Stadium tomorrow night, routed North Carolina 37-0. The Seminoles’ offense gets noticed, but the defense, which returns nine starters from last season, is becoming notorious.

“You can have a great offense and a good defense and you go 8-3,” Bowden said. “You take a great defense and a good offense and you might go 11-1.”

Florida State’s reported demise seems greatly exaggerated. Even the past two “off” years of 8-4 and 9-5 saw the Seminoles manage an ACC title and a runner-up finish. Now with a revived offense and mature defense, Florida State is again the conference favorite.

Florida State’s defense is full of gamblers who dare opponents to go deep. And that’s the trap, opponents get caught in a shootout and are forced to attempt big plays to stay close.

Florida State’s defense has playmakers. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett already is the school career leader with 49 tackles for losses, including an ACC single-season record 22 last year. Linebacker Kendyll Pope is ninth on the school’s all-time list with 21. Linebacker Michael Boulware, brother of Baltimore Ravens standout Peter Boulware, could be a first-round pick. Nose tackle Jeff Wombie is just plain nasty.

Maryland’s challenge is avoiding third-and-long situations. If it doesn’t, punter Adam Podlesh might get a sore leg. The Terps figure to run more often to set up the play-action pass. Keeping the Seminoles off balance is the key.

“We have to keep them out of the flow of what we’re doing,” Maryland offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. “We have to take some shots, too, or they’ll be in our face masks all night.”

Quarterback Scott McBrien went to the option in a second-half adjustment against Northern Illinois, demonstrating his maturity. A mid-game switch would have been unthinkable last season, but Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said the team can’t afford to have McBrien regress.

“I think we got out there and lost our poise a little bit and you go back to what you’re used to doing,” Friedgen said of Maryland’s surprising 20-13 loss. “When [Scott makes his reads], he’s very good.”

The timing was a little off downfield against Northern Illinois and resulted in slightly overthrown passes or dropped ones.

“Once you get in that mode of being just a little off, it carries through the game,” receiver Jafar Williams said. “It was a little surprising because all throughout camp I thought we were ahead of schedule. It looked really good, but didn’t show so well [against Northern Illinois].”

McBrien is still sore from a strained groin that limited his preparation for Northern Illinois. However, the senior seems to have regained his arm strength in practice. The Terps need McBrien’s best to end a 13-game losing streak against the Seminoles.

“If I play well, we put points on the board,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

The Terps could get receiver Steve Suter back in the slot after a month on the sideline because of a strained hamstring. If Suter, also one of the nation’s top return men, rejoins the lineup, he would give Maryland another sure-handed receiver and help spread the defense. The Terps thrive when McBrien has several options.

“Our offense is to throw it to the open receiver and the reads dictate where the ball goes,” Friedgen said. “Now you have to get open. That’s the big thing. I really don’t want Scott looking to one guy. I want him to be looking at the defense and let them choose which [receiver] we throw it to.”

However, the risk with multiple receivers is that it leaves McBrien alone in the backfield against Florida State’s blitz.

“[Four receivers] means I’m all by myself,” he said, “but if you know what you’re doing, you don’t need a lot of blockers. You know where you’re going before the ball is snapped. If you read the coverage right there’s always somebody open and if they’re not, I have confidence our receivers can beat one-on-one coverage.”

Maryland’s failed deep game against Northern Illinois probably will keep Florida State from stacking the line against the run.

“They were long foul balls,” Taaffe said of the incompletions. “You don’t get anything out of it, but at least we established, when people see us on film, that [the offense] has the capability of doing that. The possibilities are there.”

Note — Running back Bruce Perry (high ankle sprain) and Suter (hamstring) appear probable after practicing yesterday.

“It gives us two more playmakers on the field,” Friedgen said. “It gives us more flexibility, especially with Steve.”

Defensive end Kevin Eli was also cleared after undergoing heart tests on Wednesday.

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