- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2007

MIAMI — Virtually no one watched Maryland upend Florida International last night at the Orange Bowl. And virtually no one will remember the details of the Terrapins‘ 26-10 victory.

And that’s probably for the best.

It wasn’t that Maryland didn’t quickly jump on a team it was clearly superior to; it did. And the Terps did not endure a last-minute scare less than a week before a date with No. 3 West Virginia.

But 10 dominant minutes succeeded by 50 sluggish ones was not the sort of statement the Terps wanted to present heading into its roughest stretch.

Still, the Terps (2-0) did enough with their first two possessions and yielded only 163 yards to fend off the Golden Panthers before an announced crowd of 12,201 in what Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen described as “a trap waiting to happen.”

“This is a tough environment,” Friedgen said. “You come down here, there’s 7,000 people in the stands. You take the first two drives and go through them like it’s nothing. Human nature has a tendency to relax.”

The atmosphere was decidedly lacking. Maryland’s side of the aging, cavernous Orange Bowl was cordoned off from fans, and the emerald green paint job over the Miami and ACC logos left from a week earlier made the Golden Panthers’ status as temporary tenants painfully obvious.

Florida International (0-2) has lost 14 straight but stiffened defensively as the Terps’ early dominance proved anomalous to the rest of the game.

It was ultimately the Golden Panthers’ generosity — three turnovers plus a safety that led to 19 points — that helped doom them to defeat. But the Terps did little to follow their fine start, failing to construct a drive of more than 30 yards after their first possession in a performance they would be wise not to repeat in four days.

“Without a doubt, [we have to play] a whole lot better,” said tailback Keon Lattimore, who ran for 80 of his 111 yards and both touchdowns in Maryland’s first two drives. “We can’t break down mentally, we can’t mess up on checks, we can’t miss assignments. We have to be almost perfect.”

Maryland took the lead before it even touched the ball when Golden Panthers freshman Michael Davies sailed a snap out of the end zone for a safety. The Terps then needed six plays to score, with Lattimore not encountering resistance on a goal-line carry until he was three yards into the end zone.

Florida International’s sloppy play continued on its next possession, as Maryland linebacker Adrian Moten intercepted a deflected pass. It took only four plays for Lattimore to again reach the end zone, this time on a 14-yard gallop to make it 16-0. But that would be the apogee of the Terps’ offense, which proceeded to slumber through the rest of the game.

Vanilla playcalling was partially to blame, with quarterback Jordan Steffy content to make short, safe throws en route to an unremarkable 18-for-25, 135-yard night. But he also wasn’t as sharp as in his first career start a week earlier against Villanova as he contended with a persistent blitz.

“You have to go through this some, like they all do, until they understand you can’t assume anything,” Friedgen said. “You have to see what the defense presents. I thought he got off things a little early. When he sees it, hopefully he’ll learn from it.”

With the Terps’ offense disinterested, the Golden Panthers closed to within 16-10 with 14:05 left. But concerns of an upset were eased when Maryland’s Jeff Clement fell on a muffed punt to set up Obi Egekeze’s 36-yard field goal with 10:53 left. Later in the quarter, Kevin Barnes’ interception led to Lance Ball’s insurance touchdown.

All the while, the defense remained stingy. It was the first time since a 2003 rout of The Citadel the Terps limited an opponent to less than 100 yards of both rushing and passing.

“[When] we got up so quick it looked like we were going to dominate the whole game that people might have let up a little,” defensive tackle Carlos Feliciano said. “I don’t think it was too much, but once we saw they weren’t going to let us roll over them we came back to our senses.”

Those senses will be needed in the coming month, when the Terps face West Virginia, Wake Forest, Rutgers and Georgia Tech. Few will recall a ho-hum defeat of Florida International once that stretch is over — not that anyone would want to anyway.

“We’ll find out what we are in the next four weeks,” Friedgen said.

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