Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pregame: #16 North Carolina vs. Maryland

It hasn't been a good last 10 days for Maryland. A redshirt-freshman running back runs for 258 yards on them, leading Virginia Tech to victory over Maryland on national television, then Maryland loses their BCS ranking, and Rick Costa, a senior linebacker, gets arrested for punching a police officer outside a bar. Most would never want to face a ranked opponent at this juncture. But for Maryland, this might be the best medicine for their problems.

The Maryland Terrapins (6-3, 3-2 ACC) take on the highest ranked team in the conference, Butch Davis's North Carolina Tar Heels (7-2, 3-2 ACC). A Maryland win might be necessary. Though the Terps are bowl-eligible, eight teams have either six or seven wins, so Maryland controls their own destiny with the ACC Championship or just a better bowl. For the Tar Heels, a win means they hold first place in the Coastal Division with them holding the tiebreaker over Miami after beating them earlier in the year. Maryland lost their last game but are undefeated at home plus 5-0 against ranked teams dating back to last year. UNC has won four of their last five games and has not lost by more than three points this season.

Scouting the Competition: North Carolina Tar Heels

Many thought that Butch Davis coming to North Carolina would make the Tar Heels a powerful football team. Just not this soon. The Tar Heels have risen to the top of the conference and have a real chance to land in the ACC Championship. As long as Davis is in Chapel Hill and can recruit well, watch out for this team.

After shuffling through T.J. Yates and Mike Paulus, UNC has found its quarterback, Cameron Sexton. Though he isn't a quarterback that will win games on his own, he won't lose them. He has completed 58% of his passes, scoring eight touchdowns and three interceptions. His main target is a deadly one, Hakeem Nicks, a receiver who has caught a pass in 31 of his 32 games as a Tar Heel. He has scored eight times with 854 yards, nearly half of all the receiving yards for UNC. However the main target, Brandon Tate, has been injured for the season. Tate was considered the best all-purpose player in the ACC.

On the rusihng attack, three people get carries. Shaun Draughn, a speed back, gets the bulk of the carries, 126 this season, averaging 4.7 yards a carry. Greg Little, listed on the depth chart as a receiver, has carried the ball 72 times and only caught three passes, so expect him to have a few end-arounds. Ryan Houston, the goal line back, has seen 53 carries for 4.3 yards a carry, but has seven touchdowns.

The defense will be all over Chris Turner today. UNC is tied for the D-I lead for interceptions with 18; the other being Maryland future opponent Boston College. The leader in picks is senior strong safety Trimane Goddard (pictured) with six, while four other players have at least two. Senior linebacker Mark Paschal leads the team in tackles with 80 tackles including two picks and 6.5 sacks. The other linebacker to watch out for Bruce Carter, a modest 39 tackles, but is more known for having five blocked punts, including three against Connecticut. North Carolina is 4th in the nation in turnover radio.

Things to look out for in today's game:
1. Can Chris Turner bounce back again?
Turner has a history of playing a great game after a bad performance plus playing well after against ranked opponents. This scenario fits perfectly for this game. With UNC allowing 212 passing yards a game, despite all the interceptions, Turner needs to be strong. With the possible weather being very bad, it is possible Turner just needed to not have a bad day for Maryland to be all right.

2. Can the running game get going?
-12. This is the rushing yardage for Maryland against Virginia Tech. If this occurs again, especially with a possible rain storm, then Maryland has no chance. Da'Rel Scott is still not 100%, and Davin Meggett is not seeing much time. The fact is, the Maryland rushing attack needs to be ready.

3. How will Maryland go after Cameron Sexton?
Last year in Chapel Hill, the Terps faced T.J. Yates, and lost 16-13. Chris Cosh has not sent many blitzes lately, and did not take advantage of the problems of the Virginia Tech quarterbacks last week. Sexton is nothing special, but he will not hand you the game. Maryland needs to pressure Sexton, and constantly.

Bad weather and a ranked team. If this is a close game, Butch Davis will have the advantage over Ralph Friedgen and company. But with a little more rest and the record against ranked squads, I give the edge to Maryland.

Maryland pulls the upset: Terps 24, Tar Heels 17

(Photo credit: AP (MD-VT), UNC athletics (Goddard), Getty Images (Terps))

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