Maryland-Florida State showdown has familiar feel
The circumstances surrounding Saturday night's showdown between Florida State and Maryland are hauntingly familiar to the Terrapins.
When the Seminoles and Maryland last met at Byrd Stadium, the Terps needed a victory to keep alive their hopes of playing for the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The game was held under the lights, and Maryland fans were instructed to wear black as part of a once-a-year ''Blackout'' promotion reserved for the most important home matchup of the season.
''We were all excited,'' Terrapins senior safety Antwine Perez recalled this week.
And then came the game: A 37-3 blowout by Florida State.
''I remember it being freezing cold,'' Maryland receiver Torrey Smith said. ''It was a tough loss for us. They beat us pretty good that game.''
The Terrapins were 7-3 overall, 4-2 in the ACC and unbeaten at home. That's precisely where they stand this year, too, heading into another ''Blackout'' game against FSU.
Yet, much has changed for Maryland since that deflating defeat two years ago. After going 2-10 last year, the Terrapins have become the surprise of the ACC behind redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien and a defense that appears to have enough talent to contain the robust FSU attack.
''They're a good team. But we're a brand new team,'' senior linebacker Adrian Moten said. ''We're much different than we were than we were two years ago and even last year. We're ready to go.''
So is Florida State (7-3, 5-2). The Seminoles snapped a two-game skid by defeating Clemson last week and have won three straight against Maryland to take an 18-2 lead in the lopsided series.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is expected to return to the starting lineup after sitting out the Clemson game with an elbow injury. Two years ago against Maryland, Ponder completed 19 of 24 passes for 143 yards and led the Seminoles with 81 yards rushing.
This will be the first time in years that FSU will play Maryland without Bobby Bowden on the sideline. Coach Jimbo Fisher has orchestrated a seamless transition, although he is admittedly wary of facing the surging Terps on the road.
''I think the first thing they've done is a super job in turnover ratio. They're plus-13 in turnover margin, which we know affects the outcome of games more than anything,'' Fisher said. ''They take care of it and they get them on defense.''
The main task for the Florida State defense will be to stop O'Brien, who has thrown 10 touchdown passes and only one interception in his last four games.
''He's got a big time arm. He's accurate. He can get the ball down the field to play makers and that loosens things up,'' Fisher said.
In that defeat two years ago, the Terps wore black jerseys and black pants. This time, they will wear camouflage uniforms to support the Wounded Warrior Project.
Clearly, this is no ordinary game for Maryland.
''I'm worried about it being a little bit of a distraction,'' coach Ralph Friedgen said. ''Sometimes we get into a lot of pomp and ceremony with the new uniforms and all that when it really comes down to beating your opponent. Bascially, you've got to go out and beat Florida State. It doesn't matter what you're wearing.''
Defeating Florida State has never been easy for Maryland. Then again, the Terrapins had lost three straight and 14 of 18 against Virginia before stomping the Cavaliers 42-23 last week.
The players insist this squad should not be confused with the one that lost to FSU in 2008 or the one that went 2-10 last year.
''Last week, this team never played UVA before,'' Smith said. ''This team has never played Florida State before. It's a new slate for us. We've just got to go out there and play our game.''
''Torrey is right,'' said senior linebacker Alex Wujciak, who vividly remembers that 2008 game. ''This team hasn't lost to Florida State. We definitely know we can play with them. We have to be ready to go, but not too excited.''