- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen sat in his office this week and discussed the implications of today's game with 14th-ranked N.C. State. The coach didn't offer the usual cliches or communicate in coachspeak. He knows the game is important, perhaps more important than any other.

"Whoever wins this game can have a great season," he said. "Whoever doesn't win can have a good one."

The Terrapins are in position to accomplish some lofty goals after winning six consecutive games in dominating fashion. They are in line for a New Year's bowl and have an outside shot at repeating as ACC champions. Maryland (7-2, 3-1 ACC) will celebrate homecoming before one the largest crowds at Byrd Stadium as it attempts to continue its ascent to college football's highest levels.

"It's going to be electric in here," Terps receiver Scooter Monroe said.

The Wolfpack (9-1, 4-1), coming off a 24-17 loss to Georgia Tech last week, are in second place in the conference. N.C. State is behind only Florida State (5-0 in the league) and will play host to the Seminoles in two weeks.

Quarterback Philip Rivers saw his Heisman chances plummet with the loss, and N.C. State is now trying to show the best start in program history was not the result of a weak schedule.

"With all the hopes and dreams we had for this season, I think a lot of the players took it hard," defensive end George Anderson said after N.C. State allowed 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech. "The good thing about football is you lose one week but you have a chance to redeem yourself the next."

That won't be easy in an emotion-filled stadium supporting the ACC's hottest team. The Terps will have an added boost with the return of injured tailback Bruce Perry, who has missed all but one play this season. Maryland has been winning by an average of 34.8 points during the streak, with its closest victory a 34-10 dismissal of Georgia Tech. While the defense and special teams have been strong all season, it is the evolution of a quick-strike offense that has turned the Terps into a well-rounded team that has averaged 44.7 points the last six weeks.

Quarterback Scott McBrien was overwhelmed in early season losses to Notre Dame and Florida State. During the streak, however, the left-handed junior has been more at ease, completing 62 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and one interception.

"He's coming around to where Shaun [Hill] was last year," said Monroe, who had an 80-yard touchdown catch last week. "He has a strong arm. He'll make a throw where a lot of times last year Shaun may have checked down to a shorter route. Scotty is going to stick it in there. That's why the big plays are coming."

The development of a running game also has taken pressure off McBrien. Chris Downs had four touchdowns last week as the Terps ran for 388 yards in a 59-7 victory over North Carolina. The Wolfpack, who allow 18.7 points a game and 123.5 yards a contest, expect a steady diet of Downs and Co. Perry, last season's ACC offensive player of the year, will restart his season after missing the first seven games recovering from a torn groin and missing last week with a sprained shoulder.

"It's amazing that their running backs right now are averaging [4.8 yards] per carry [compared to] what they were averaging last year [4.6]," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said.

The Terps' defense leads the ACC and is eighth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 14.4 points. N.C. State has a prolific offense, averaging 38.5 points, and is led by Rivers and freshman tailback T.A. McLendon (15 rushing touchdowns). Rivers completed 21 of 41 passes for 277 yards last week, while McLendon was held to 49 yards.

"We need to put pressure on them and make them throw the quick ball, the short dumps," Maryland All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "We can't give him time to see the field and throw the deep ball. If we can prevent the long ball, I think we'll be all right."

The X-factor could be special teams. Maryland's Steve Suter returned a punt 77 yards last week for a touchdown, tying the NCAA Division I-A record with four punt returns for touchdowns in a season. The Terps also have one of the nation's best punters in Brooks Barnard and the ACC's most accurate field goal kicker in Nick Novak.

The Wolfpack have scored seven touchdowns on special teams, including three on kickoff returns and three on five blocked punts. All-ACC safety Terrence Holt holds the ACC record with 12 blocked kicks in his career.

"If we don't dominate or win the kicking game, we don't have a prayer," said Amato, who plans to kick the ball away from Suter.

Last season, the Terps won the ACC championship outright on the Wolfpack's field with a miraculous comeback and touchdown pass from Hill to Guilian Gary in the final minute. Two years ago, Maryland's second-half comeback led to a shocking overtime win.

"We stole one from them here, and then we did the same thing last year," Monroe said. "They think they are a better football team than us. We think we are a better football team than they are. That's all it comes down to. It's just going to be who makes plays."

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