TV: JP Sports – Steve Martin (play-by-play), Doc Walker (analyst), Mike Hogewood (sideline)
Site: Byrd Stadium (48,055 grass)
Records: Maryland (5-3, 2-2 ACC); UNC (1-7, 0-4 ACC)
Series: UNC leads 35-29-1
Rankings: Neither team is ranked
Coaches: Maryland – Ralph Friedgen, 3rd season, 26-9-0 .743; UNC – John Bunting, 3rd season, 12-21-0 .364
Last Meeting: Maryland 59, UNC 7 on Nov. 2, 2002, Chapel Hill.
Line: Maryland by 16
Recap of Inside Carolina's Game Week Coverage
* Buck: Between the Lines
* Meet the Terps
* Holley seeks two-sport stardom
* Ronnie McGill and Jeb Terry Q&A
* John Bunting press conference
* Ralph Friedgen press conference
North Carolina brings its resurgent rushing attack into an unfriendly corner of the D.C. beltway, to take on Maryland under the watchful eye of a giant inflatable testudo, where the Tar Heels have not won since 1997. Carolina continues to improve both offensively and defensively, but faces its toughest opponent of the second half schedule.
Even with just one win on the season, crafty Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen made it clear earlier this week that his team was not overlooking the Tar Heels. And rightly so, as UNC is ripe for a win. Since a 28-17 win at East Carolina, UNC has lost two in a row within the games' closing seconds.
Practically any outcome will be an improvement over the Tar Heels' debacle versus the Terps in Kenan Stadium last season. Saturday's contest comes 366 days since Maryland suffered Carolina its worst home defeat and its third biggest margin of defeat in school history. After UNC had jumped out to 7-0 lead, the Terps ran off 59 unanswered points behind 388 yards on the ground and 200 through the air.
But while Carolina was reeling from a huge letdown of an eventual 3-9 season at that point in 2002, this year's squad is clearly building character with each game and close to turning the proverbial corner.
UNC has won nine of the last 13 meetings with Maryland, but has dropped three of the last four, including two-straight.
Darian Durant's performance versus the Tigers last week was inspirational, despite committing four turnovers. The Tar Heels leading rusher has thrown 11 touchdowns this season, becoming the first quarterback in school history to throw at least 10 TDs three separate seasons. Scott McBrien returned to practice this week after being pulled for precautionary measures related to a hit he suffered in the second quarter in Maryland's last outing at Georgia Tech. The latest is that he will start which is not good news for UNC. McBrien, who is 16-6 as a starter, has a 121.5-efficiency rating, having thrown for 1, 310 yards and six touchdowns this season. But McBrien's passing is primarily used to keep opposing defenses honest against the Terps' dominant ground game, while as Durant goes, so goes Carolina.
True freshman tailback Ronnie McGill has scored four rushing touchdowns in the last three games. He is tied for the team lead with Durant for the most rushing touchdowns this season. Nine of the Tar Heels' last 13 touchdowns have come on the ground. UNC can just now be considered an effective rushing team again, while the Terps have hung their hat on running the ball all season. Maryland is second in the ACC in rushing with three tailbacks – Josh Allen, Bruce Perry and Sammy Maldonado – are ranked among the league's top 10 in yards per game average. Saturday's game could go a long way in determining if Carolina's running game has legitimately arrived. Until then, the logical edge goes to the Terps.
The Tar Heels will be without Mackey Award candidate Bobby Blizzard, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week at Clemson, in what was the best outing of his illness-shortened senior season. While Blizzard's absence will be noticeable, Carolina has talent, speed and depth to burn at its receiver positions. Junior Jawarski Pollock is on pace for a 77-reception season, which would break the school record of 68 set by current Buffalo Bills rookie Sam Aiken last season. Four of the Terps' receiving touchdowns have been to Latrez Harrison and Derrick Fenner, with two apiece. Tight end Jeff Dugan has ten catches for 118 yards, but other than that, look for McBrien to spread the ball around liberally and cautious not to throw the interception. The Tar Heels have numerous playmakers, while the Maryland's receiving corps is adequate.
Carolina has allowed just one sack in the last three games, and are providing a substantial push and opening holes for the rushing attack. Jeb Terry, who was named the ACC's Offensive Player of the Week and named to the roster of the Senior Bowl on Wednesday, is the leader of a unit that is gelling during Carolina's offensive run of success. Behind all quality rushing teams is a solid offensive line. Second team All-ACC Lamar Bryant and third-year starter C.J. Brooks are two of the league's best guards.
Defensive Front Seven
The one thing the Carolina linemen and linebackers can do now that they couldn't do earlier in the season is summon up a big defensive play seemingly when the team needs it the most. And last week, they rushed the passer better than in any other game this season. But let's not get carried away. They still give up big chunks of yardage on the ground and have registered just eight sacks on the season – three of which have been by freshman end Alden Blizzard, who will be getting just his second career start. The Carolina offensive linemen will need to know where end Kevin Eli and D'Qwell Jackson are at all times. Eli leads the team in sacks with five, and Jackson is the team leader in tackles with 5.5 for loss.
Mahlon Carey's two interceptions at Wisconsin are the only the Tar Heels have been able to muster this season, to go along with just six last season and eight the year before. In a statistic that should be shared equally with its benign pass rushers, Carolina is giving up 293 yards per game through the air. Maryland's defensive backs – named the "Four Corners," because each of the starters have played significant snaps at the cornerback position – have combined 24 interceptions and 86 pass break ups spanning their 113 career starts.
Michael Waddell appears to have fully recovered from an earlier injury and is the nation's leading kickoff returner, averaging 31.9 yards per runback. Dan Orner has kicked just one field goal in the Tar Heels last three games, but remains fifth in the league in scoring. But after peaking in the middle of the season, the UNC coverage teams have given up a crucial punt return and kickoff return in their last two games. Terps' placekicker Nick Novak and punter Adam Podlesh are ranked 10th and 18th in the country at their respective positions. Steve Suter had a 77-yard touchdown return in the win over the Tar Heels last season.
Prediction: Maryland 34, UNC 24