Terps see UNC's 1-7 mark as deceiving

QB Durant, recent efforts by Heels are enough to prevent overconfidence

November 01, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - It's homecoming week at the University of Maryland, and conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that's just what a struggling football team needs to break out of a slump. After all, few things are as inspiring as a boisterous, sellout crowd full of proud parents and alumni.

Lose the game, of course, and it's a different story.

"They can hang coaches at homecoming too, you know," Terps coach Ralph Friedgen joked this week. "Because the whole posse is here."

No one will be calling for Friedgen's neck after today, win or lose, but Maryland (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) can't afford to drop a game to North Carolina (1-7, 0-4) if it's going to salvage a once-promising season that was derailed last week with a 7-3 loss to Georgia Tech.

And while the Tar Heels hardly look imposing on paper - North Carolina's defense is giving up 36.9 points a game - they aren't exactly playing with the weight of the world on their shoulders, either.

"They might be 1-7, but to me that means they don't have anything to lose," said Maryland linebacker Shawne Merriman. "They come at you. They're really going to be fired up to play us."

And North Carolina has hardly been a pushover recently. Two weeks ago, Arizona State got a touchdown on the final play of the game to rally for a 33-31 win, and last week, the Tar Heels had a chance to tie Clemson in the closing seconds, but quarterback Darian Durant fumbled inches from the goal line as the Tigers held on for a 36-28 win.

"They are a very good football team," Friedgen said. "They've had some tough losses. ... This is one of the better offensive teams we've faced. They can both run it and throw it. [Durant] is mobile, athletic, has a very strong arm and is a very dangerous quarterback."

Oddly enough, North Carolina plays better on the road than it does at home. The Tar Heels haven't won in Chapel Hill since December 2001, which includes a 59-7 defeat at the hands of the Terps last year.

"Despite our team's record, I think we've played hard," said Tar Heels coach John Bunting. "We've obviously got a long way to go."

It's no secret that Maryland's defense has been carrying the load this season, and while the Terps have been successful bottling up mobile quarterbacks, they haven't faced one quite as talented as Durant.

A junior, Durant is already the school's all-time leader in total offense with 6,299 yards, and this year he leads his team in both passing (1,703) and rushing (339), something no Tar Heel has done since 1968.

"He's extremely competitive," Bunting said of Durant. "When he focuses in and funnels all of his energy into taking his game to another level in terms of managing the game, he is really good."

Durant's ability wasn't the only thing that impressed Friedgen when he watched game film of Carolina this week. He said he couldn't help but notice that the Tar Heels seemed to have the one thing Maryland has been lacking lately: Joy.

"I watch teams like Georgia Tech. I watch teams like North Carolina. I watch teams like Duke, and these kids are playing hard, and they're playing excited and having fun," Friedgen said. "Sometimes, I watch our guys and it looks like it's work. We have to get back to having fun out there."

Maryland's seniors gathered together this week to address that issue, and to remind each other that time is running out on their careers.

"A lot of it was about leadership," said quarterback Scott McBrien. "We need to have senior leadership. And some of those mistakes [against Georgia Tech], most of them were seniors. You can't have that if you're going to have a good football team.

"Every team I've ever been on from high school to college has had great senior leadership, and it's time for some guys to start stepping up, myself included."

McBrien said he's completely healthy this week, despite missing two days of practice while recovering from a concussion he suffered against Georgia Tech. But it's more likely that Maryland's ability to run the ball - or its inability - will be the deciding factor today.

"If you watch us the last few years, our running game always set up the pass," said center Kyle Schmidt. "That's what we need to get back to. And right now, our offensive line isn't getting it done. ... I wish I knew what it was so we could get it corrected."

Next for Terps

Matchup:North Carolina (1-7, 0-4) vs. Maryland (5-3, 2-2)

Site:Byrd Stadium, College Park

When:Today, noon

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line:Maryland by 16 1/2

Today's game

North Carolina (1-7, 0-4) at Maryland (5-3, 2-2)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

Time: Noon

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 16 1/2

Series: North Carolina leads 35-29-1

Last meeting: Maryland defeated North Carolina, 59-7, in Chapel Hill, N.C., last season.

Last week: Maryland lost to Georgia Tech, 7-3; North Carolina lost to Clemson, 36-28.

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