- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

North Carolina has the ACC’s worst defense, only one victory and no bowl prospects. So is Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen unduly worried about the Terrapins’ homecoming game today?

Maybe not. Maryland (5-3, 2-2 ACC) has played some of its worst games this season as a big favorite. The scores might not show it, but the Terps struggled to beat Eastern Michigan 37-13 and Duke 33-20. Maryland is a 161/2-point favorite over the Tar Heels (1-7, 0-4), a team it beat 59-7 last year.

Overconfidence hasn’t plagued the Terps this season. They have played tentatively since they started with high expectations and a No.15 preseason ranking. Friedgen’s veteran team had fans talking about an undefeated season. Instead, an 0-2 start proved a harbinger for an offense constantly hampered by injuries. Points, which flowed freely the past two years, have slowed to a trickle. The 7-3 loss at Georgia Tech on Oct.23 represented the second-fewest points scored by the Terps during Friedgen’s three seasons.

The battered offensive line hasn’t handled eight-man defensive fronts well. Senior quarterback Scott McBrien hasn’t matched his performance from last season, when he was nation’s 12th-leading passer. A dominant receiver hasn’t emerged, and the running game is by committee because 2001 ACC offensive player of the year Bruce Perry still isn’t healthy.

Having played just one game in 21 days leaves the Terps as healthy as they have been since camp opened Aug.4, but the offense still isn’t in sync. If not for the nation’s No.5 scoring defense, Maryland could be 3-5.

As it is, the Terps are long shots to win their second ACC title in three years. A major bowl date is improbable unless they sweep the final three games against Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest. Each of these opponents could go to a bowl game, so each Maryland victory improves its postseason prospects.

The Tangerine Bowl on Dec.22 in Orlando, Fla., appears to be Maryland’s likeliest destination. However, the Terps could end up anywhere from the Gator Bowl on Jan.1 in Jacksonville, Fla., to the Humanitarian Bowl on Jan.3 in Boise, Idaho. Friedgen acknowledged Maryland could finish as well as 9-3 or as poorly as 5-7.

“It’s like a playoff system,” Friedgen said. “Everybody has to play everybody else. It could get real wild.”

In a seniors only meeting, Friedgen spoke about playing with “quan” — a word invented by Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell character in the movie “Jerry Maguire.” According to Tidwell, quan means “enjoying the game.” After all, homecoming is supposed to be fun.

“I’ve watched teams like Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Duke, [and] those kids are playing hard, playing excited, having fun,” Friedgen said. “Sometimes I watch our guys, and it’s like work. … I’m hoping we can come out with the enthusiasm and joy of just playing. If they do that, they would play real well.”

Center Kyle Schmitt says he anticipates players will feed off the capacity crowd at Byrd Stadium. The fourth straight home turnout of 50,000-plus could rejuvenate the Terps. The Terps are 17-1 at home under Friedgen, including 4-0 this year. Maryland’s worst efforts have come on the road.

Friedgen admits he can no longer predict how the Terps will play based on practices. He thought workouts leading up to Georgia Tech were some of the best in his tenure.

“This is a different team,” Friedgen said. “Normally, the way [we] practice the last two years indicated how we played.”

North Carolina won’t be a typical homecoming rollover. The Tar Heels have lost two games by two points and another by a touchdown. Their defense may be awful, but the offense is averaging an ACC-best 4.3 yards a carry and 213.3 yards rushing in its last three games.

Quarterback Dariant Durant could be the first player to lead North Carolina in rushing and passing since 1968. He has 229 yards rushing and 1,703 yards passing. Combined with receiver Jarwarski Pollock, whose 6.4 receptions a game top the ACC, and kick returner Michael Waddell, who leads the nation with a 31.9-yard average, the Tar Heels have enough big-play performers to test the Terps’ defense.

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