COLLEGE PARK -- It seemed that this finally would be the week the University of Maryland football team got a breather. After four nationally ranked opponents in the the past six weeks, the Terps are host to Wake Forest on Saturday in their noon homecoming game at Byrd Stadium.
But the Terps (3-3 overall, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) are preparing for the Demon Deacons (2-3, 0-2) the same way they prepared for Michigan, Clemson, West Virginia and Georgia Tech.
The Wake Forest game begins a three-game conference stretch that also includes Duke (2-3, 0-2) and North Carolina (4-2, 1-1), TC teams that Maryland should be favored to beat.
And, if the Terps sweep, it would guarantee the school's first winning season since 1985 and the first under fourth-year coach Joe Krivak.
"We're not grouping all three games together and saying we have to win these," said Maryland wide receiver Barry Johnson. "But it sure would be nice to go into the Penn State and Virginia games [the last two of the season] with a 6-3 record. We just have to take it one game at a time."
According to several Maryland players, they had their eyes opened in Saturday's 31-3 loss to Georgia Tech. It wasn't that the Terps had overlooked the Yellow Jackets, but that most observers had predicted a close game.
"Anything can happen in the ACC," said Maryland offensive tackle Clarence Jones. "Two years ago, we were supposed to beat Wake Forest, and they upset us here. Duke kicked our butts last season, and North Carolina has always played us tough.
"I expect there is going to be some outside pressure if everybody thinks we're going to beat them because they are no good," Jones said. "The next few games are going to be close, tough battles. This is when teams are fighting for winning seasons and possible bowl bids. Even the No. 1 team plays harder at the end of the year, because it looks better when you're No. 1 and 10-1 instead of No. 1 and 3-1."
Wake Forest is not to be confused with Michigan or Georgia Tech. Wake Forest is sixth in the eight-team conference in total offense, averaging 178.6 rushing and 157.8 passing yards. The only offenses worse than Wake Forest's are Duke's and North Carolina's.
The Demon Deacons are seventh in total defense, allowing 350.8 total yards a game, including 265.8 rushing. Wake Forest has lost to Rice and North Carolina State (a team Maryland beat) and blew a 24-10 lead last week in a 31-24 loss against visiting North Carolina.
Krivak, however, points out that the Demon Deacons have scored a total of 76 points in their past two games and haven't lost at Maryland since 1984.
Plus, Krivak has his own problems.
He still hasn't figured out what went wrong against Georgia Tech.
"Were we tired? Was it the result of playing six very physical football games? Was it the [injuries]? Or was it a combination of all those things?" Krivak said. "I don't have an answer for that. But what is important is that I think this team will bounce back."
Some Maryland problems appear simple to solve.
Georgia Tech had 471 yards of total offense last week, but the Terps had been yielding an average of only 209.2 before then. And, though Wake Forest's passing attack has been effecive, the Terps' secondary is near full-strength.
Offensively, the Terps must protect the quarterback. Georgia Tech had 11 sacks, and because of the Yellow Jackets' success, Maryland probably will see a similar strategy from Wake Forest.
"I expect to see a lot of twists with their defensive linemen and a lot of blitzing," said Jones. "When you pass as much as we do, you often see a lot of pressure."
Johnson said the team is in better shape overall than it was last season.
"Last year, we were 1-5 going into the Wake Forest game. This year, we're 3-3, and that makes a difference," he said. "We have to get back to where we were playing at earlier in the season. We were moving the ball up and down the field, putting ourselves in position to score. Everyone was playing hard and playing together.
"That's why we were beating teams we weren't supposed to. And if we play that way the rest of the season, who knows what may happen? We may just win them all."