COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Just a week after a listless performance, the Florida State defense rediscovered the kind of ferocity long associated with its championship teams.
The Seminoles sacked the Maryland quarterback. A lot.
They forced turnovers. A lot of them.
They even scored points, complementing an efficient, methodical offense that was back at full strength in a dominating 37-3 win against the No. 22-ranked Terrapins before an announced crowd of 51,620 at Byrd Stadium on a frigid Saturday night.
"That's the way it used to be," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said of the defense. "That's how we used to play. I thought we'd forgotten how."
Here's something else like the good old days.
The Seminoles (8-3, 5-3) are still alive in the race for a league championship. They will win the Atlantic Division and a spot in the ACC title game in Tampa on Dec. 6 if these same Terrapins come to their defense and beat Boston College next week in Chestnut Hill, Mass. FSU and Maryland would have the same league record, but FSU would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The once-chaotic Coastal Division now is down to Georgia Tech (8-3, 5-3) and Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3). The Hokies, who beat Georgia Tech, are in if they beat Virginia next week.
Not that the Seminoles, who have won eight regular-season games for the first time since 2004, can afford to watch the scoreboard. Not with Florida coming to Tallahassee. Not with what happened a week ago against Boston College.
The Seminoles had control of their divisional fate, but the offense looked out of synch, limited with three key receivers suspended for their involvement in a brawl. The defense struggled, too, allowing 357 yards, including 67 on a 16-play, 8:55 drive that all but ended the game.
Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said he delivered a rather simple message, one that wasn't even laced with colorful language, for his players as they prepared for the Terrapins (7-4, 4-3), who were 6-0 at home with a Division I-A best four wins against ranked opponents.
"Go out there and play Seminole defense," he had said. "Go out there, be aggressive, have fun, make plays and play together."
They had six sacks, 31/2 by Everette Brown, something Bowden didn't think his team would be able to do because he thought Maryland's offensive line compared favorably with Boston College's and FSU had one sack in that game.
"We got pushed around last week," said Kenny Ingram, who moved from linebacker to safety with Myron Rolle unable to make it from Birmingham, Ala., where he was interviewing for and earning a Rhodes Scholarship, to the game until midway through the second quarter.
"We took it real personally. It was more of a mind-set for us."
The Seminoles also forced two fumbles, one of which Derek Nicholson returned for a touchdown, and Ingram and Toddrick Verdell had interceptions. Maryland's Chris Turner had entered with a string of 123 passes without an interception.
In all, FSU held Maryland to 252 yards, nearly 100 fewer than its season average.
"We prepared well," Nicholson said. "It all starts at practice. That's what happens when you're focused all week long. You're tuned in the whole week, and it carries over."
Meanwhile, quarterback Christian Ponder rebounded from a poor outing (three interceptions) with a near flawless one. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
He also ran 14 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Seminoles, who were held to a season-low 73 yards rushing against Boston College, had 172 on this night. And Graham Gano was 3-for-3 on field goals, hitting from 22, 24 and 48 yards.
"Our motto is, 'Somebody's got to pay,' when you go out and have a game like we did last week," Verdell said. "Somebody had to pay. We came out there and had a great defensive game. We played an all-around great game: offense, defense, special teams."