- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

The state of N.C. State will be determined in Maryland tomorrow.
The Wolfpack received extensive criticism for a light schedule that propelled them to a 9-0 record going into last week. The 14th-ranked Wolfpack's strength of schedule is 100th out of 117 Division I-A teams this week. The cynics may have been proved right last week when State collapsed on its home field and blew a fourth-quarter lead to lose to unheralded Georgia Tech.
N.C. State comes to Byrd Stadium not only to keep alive its ACC title and BCS bowl hopes, but to prove the best start in program history wasn't a facade built on a soft foundation.
"You talk about a question being answered," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said. "You just lost. Now go play the hottest team in your conference. If you can beat them, there will still be some skeptics. But we just want credibility."
The Wolfpack (9-1, 4-1 ACC) blew a 17-9 fourth-quarter lead against Georgia Tech by allowing 15 straight points. The loss effectively took quarterback Philip Rivers off the Heisman ballot, and exposed a flawed team. N.C. State had gone unscathed through the first two months of the season, beating two Division I-AA teams, struggling past Navy and squeaking by ACC-doormat Duke 24-22. Its opponents have a combined record of 36-48. The Wolfpack's most impressive wins were at Texas Tech (51-48 in overtime) and against Clemson (38-6).
Still, the Wolfpack believed they were a legitimate contender for an undefeated season and a possible national title threat when they took the field last week in Raleigh. But N.C. State couldn't deliver on three late drives that could have tied the game.
"It especially hurts when you lose the first one this late," Rivers said. "It can drive you crazy. But great teams bounce back. We feel like we are a great team. And this will be a test to show that we are."
N.C. State is a 6-point underdog to Maryland (7-2, 3-1), which has won six straight by an average of 34.8 points. The Terrapins are coming off a 59-7 stomping of North Carolina that came a week after a 45-12 demolition of Duke.
The Wolfpack's meltdown last week included a short punt that set up the Yellow Jackets' winning score. Freshman tailback T.A. McLendon, who is having a sensational season with 862 yards and a league-high 15 touchdown runs, was held to 49 yards and had a critical fumble in the fourth quarter.
Rivers, who has thrown for 2,421 yards, 17 touchdowns and no interceptions, couldn't deliver in the clutch.
Now the Wolfpack are in a position where they can either get some redemption and temporarily quiet critics or provide further evidence that they are frauds.
"We'll find out a lot about ourselves this weekend," Amato said.
Notes Maryland tailback Bruce Perry and offensive tackle Matt Crawford will play tomorrow. Perry, last season's ACC offensive player of the year, missed the first seven games of the season after tearing a groin muscle in the preseason. The junior injured his shoulder on the first play two weeks ago against Duke, and was out last week. "Bruce is full speed," Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said. "To me, he just hasn't had any contact [this week in practice]. That's my concern." Crawford missed last week with a knee strain, but has improved significantly and likely will start at left tackle.
An additional 260 temporary bleacher seats have been constructed next to the press box for the game that was nearly a sellout last night. The Maryland basketball team will hold an open scrimmage tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Comcast Center.


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