Click here for a transcript of Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen’s Tuesday press conference.
North Carolina is playing its best football of the season right now. The defense is steadily improving and the offense has proven it has the capability to move at will against any opponent except Florida State and Virginia. It’s a team you cannot look beyond. But still, with its laughable defensive statistics, UNC remains 1-7, winless in the conference, and must visit Maryland (5-3, 2-2 ACC) – a team that won 59-7 last year in Kenan Stadium and one of three current ACC teams John Bunting has yet to defeat.
The Tar Heels hold a 7-4 edge in the last 11 meetings between the two teams, but the Terrapins have won three of the last four in the series and fell just shy of a win in 2000 (13-10).
Maryland, which hasn’t played since Oct. 23, a 7-3 loss at Georgia Tech, has scored first in all eight of its games this season. The Terps’ defense is ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense (13.6 points per game) and 11th in total defense (286.4 total yards allowed per game).
Here’s IC’s weekly trip through the depth chart of UNC’s next opponent.
As would be expected on a rushing team, Scott McBrien (6-0, 180, Sr.), the 2002 Peach Bowl offensive MVP, rates in the league’s second division with a 163.8 passing yards per game. His 121.5 passing efficiency is more than respectable however, especially considering the wealth of talented quarterbacks in the ACC this year. McBrien missed the second half of the game last week due to injury. It was the first time in two years that he left a game for more than a series. Should McBrien go down, head coach Ralph Friedgen will call on an inexperienced Joel Statham (6-1, 207, Fr.*).
Second only in the league to Wake Forest in rushing offense, Bruce Perry (5-10, 205, Sr) and Josh Allen (5-11, 207, So.) share time as starting tailbacks on a team averaging 160.9 yards per game on the ground. In last year’s meeting in Chapel Hill, Allen gained 91 yards and scored two touchdowns on just six carries. Perry’s best outing this season came against the Yellow Jackets, when he rushed for 75 yards and became the eighth back in school history to surpass 2,000 yards for his career. The fullback is Bernie Fiddler (5-10, 244, Sr.) has yet to carry the ball this season.
Steve Suter (5-10, 192, Jr.) brings explosiveness to both the wide receiver and punt returner positions. He averages 15.5 yards every time he touches the ball – rushing, receiving or returning. Latrez Harrison (6-2. 223. Sr.) leads the team in receiving with 25 catches for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Fenner (6-0, 185, So.) also has two touchdown receptions.
The loss of two all-conference performers to graduation has not hurt Maryland too much. Right guard Lamar Bryant (6-3, 313, Sr.) was second-team All-ACC last year. On the other side is third-year starter C.J. Brooks (6-6, 318, Jr.). Center Kyle Schmitt (6-5, 297, Jr.) won the starting job earlier this year, but expect to also see Ed Tyler (6-3, 293. Sr.). The tackles are Stephon Heyer (6-6, 295, So.) and Eric Dumas (6-6, 301, Sr.).
Jeff Dugan (6-5, 258, Jr.) is a big, strong and physical player with good hands. The fourth-year starter has been described by his coaches as the best blocking tight end in the conference. He has 10 catches this season for an 11.8 average. His backup is Derek Miller (6-8, 258, So.), who has just one reception on the year.
Maryland has held all but two opponents this season below their rushing average. The Terps held No. 21 Northern Illinois to 59 yards on the ground, 141 yards below its average. In just his second year as a starter, tackle Randy Starks (6-4, 305, Jr.), along with nose tackle C.J. Feldheim (6-3, 287, Sr.) have become a force in the middle. ESPN.com picked Starks as its preseason Defensive Player of the Year. End Kevin Eli (6-4, 268, Jr.) has five sacks this season for a total loss of 48 yards.
In the middle is D’Qwell Jackson (6-1, 224, So.), who leads the team with 96 tackles – 5.5 for loss. LEO Jamahi Cochran (6-0, 254, Jr.) is a strong player that excels against the run. He has taken over the starting position from Shawne Merriman (6-4, 253, So.), who was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Week following the Oct. 6 match-up with Clemson. Leon Joe (6-1, 232, Sr.) is an underrated defender who has drawn more acclaim lately since two-time All-American E.J. Henderson has graduated. Strong side linebacker Leroy Ambush (6-1, 225, Sr.) may have the name best suited to his position.
Referred to as the “Four Corners,” Curome Cox (6-0, 197, Jr.), Domonique Foxworth (5-11, 177, Jr.), along with safeties’ Dennard Wilson (5-10, 189, Sr.) and Madieu Williams (6-1, 188, Sr.) bring a wealth of talent and experience to the secondary. Between them, they bring 113 career-combined starts, 24 interceptions and 86 pass breakups. All started a year ago, and all have spent at least some portion of their college career at cornerback. Maryland has held three opponents this season below 100 yards passing.
Placekicker Nick Novak (6-0, 183, Jr.) came on midway through the 2001 season and now is widely considered one of the nation’s premier kickers. He is ranked 10th in the country in field goals per game. With 42 punt return yards against West Virginia, Suter became Maryland’s all-time leader with 922 yards, including a 77-yarder for a touchdown last year in the win over the Tar Heels. Punter Adam Podlesh (5-11, 209, Fr.*) is ranked 18th nationally with a 44.0 yard average.