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December 28, 2010

Military Bowl: East Carolina vs. Maryland

Instead of celebrating a surprisingly good season with their Military Bowl appearance, the Maryland Terrapins could be melancholy when they face East Carolina on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Maryland officials announced earlier this month that this would be the final game for coach Ralph Friedgen, a Terps alum who is 74-50 in his 10-season tenure. This is the seventh bowl for the Terps under Friedgen, including their fourth in the past five seasons. Friedgen, 63, was the ACC's coach of the year this season after guiding the Terps to an 8-4 record overall and a 5-3 league mark.

"It's kind of like you died -- and it's a slow death," Friedgen said Monday at a bowl media event. "Everything you experience is for the last time. It's been a very stressful week, especially from an emotional standpoint."

But Friedgen has kept his sense of humor. Terps players planned to carry Friedgen off the practice field after the final workout Monday -- "maybe with a forklift," said the portly coach.

Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin, who had been the Terps' coach-in-waiting, accepted the Vanderbilt job earlier this month and already has departed. Running backs coach John Donovan will call plays in the Military Bowl; that had been Franklin's job.

ECU, meanwhile, is making its fifth consecutive bowl appearance and its first under new coach Ruffin McNeill. As an interim coach, McNeill guided Texas Tech to an Alamo Bowl victory last season after Mike Leach was fired. Leach, coincidentally, is thought to be a front-runner for the Maryland job.

This is the first-ever meeting between ECU and Maryland. ECU already has played three other ACC teams this season, beating N.C. State and losing to North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Maryland also beat N.C. State.

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

East Carolina rush offense vs. Maryland rush defense: ECU has morphed from a run-first offense to one that seemingly runs only as a last resort. The Pirates do have 21 rushing TDs, with senior Jonathan Williams leading the way with 10. Williams, a senior, has emerged as a dependable back this season, but he is nothing special. Maryland has been OK against the run. LB Alex Wujciak always is around the ball and heads a good linebacker corps. Edge: Maryland.

MILITARY BOWL

East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-4)
WHEN: Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
TV:ESPN (Pam Ward will do play-by-play, with Danny Kanell as the analyst).
THE LINE: Maryland by 7.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: East Carolina 3-5, Maryland 4-4.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: East Carolina T-33rd, Maryland 59th.
BCS RANKINGS: Neither is ranked.
OFFICIATING CREW: From the Big East.
COACHES: ECU - Ruffin McNeill (1-0 in bowls); Maryland - Ralph Friedgen (4-2 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This is the final game for Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, who is being forced out despite leading Maryland to the postseason for the seventh time in 10 seasons; in addition, he was the ACC's coach of the year this season. This also should be a high-scoring game. ECU has one of the most prolific passing offenses in the nation but also one of the most porous defenses. The average ECU game features 81.6 points and 924.3 yards.
KEY STATS: Maryland is 43rd nationally in total defense, allowing 353.1 yards per game. ECU is last nationally in that category, surrendering 478.8 yards per game. Maryland has allowed 32 TDs; ECU has allowed 69.
East Carolina pass offense vs. Maryland pass defense: ECU is seventh nationally in pass offense, averaging 318.3 yards per game. QB Dominique Davis is second nationally with 36 TD passes; the leader, Hawaii's Bryant Moniz (with 39), already is finished with his bowl game. Dwayne Harris is a big-timer at wide receiver, and he and Lance Lewis have combined for 171 receptions, 2,034 yards and 23 TDs. ECU has four players with at least 44 receptions and six with at least 22. Williams is extremely effective as a receiver out of the backfield. Maryland has allowed 15 TD passes and has 17 picks, but the Terps have been torched through the air a few times by teams not nearly as proficient throwing the ball as ECU. FS Kenny Tate is the best player in the secondary, and he needs to make some big plays against the Pirates. The Terps like to blitz and have an OK pass rush, but ECU has given up just 13 sacks Edge: East Carolina.

Maryland rush offense vs. East Carolina rush defense: The Terps have struggled to consistently run the ball. They have had three 200-yard games, but two of those came in the first two contests of the season. In addition, they have been held to fewer than 100 yards five times, including two games with negative yardage. RB Da'Rel Scott has been a disappointment, but he has breakaway ability. Thing is, as bad as Maryland has been at times, the Terps should have success against a porous ECU run defense. The Pirates have surrendered 35 rushing TDs (only four teams have given up more), and they allow a robust 5.2 yards per carry. Edge: Maryland.

Maryland pass offense vs. East Carolina pass defense: Redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien looks to be the answer to the Terps' recent quarterback issues. He has thrown 21 TD passes against just six picks, and should feast on ECU's awful pass defense. WR Torrey Smith is a productive deep threat; he has 65 receptions (16.1 yards per catch), and 12 of them have gone for TDs. But he's really the only wide receiver of note. ECU has allowed 30 TD passes and has just nine picks. In the second half of the season, the Pirates gave up 16 TD passes and came up with just four picks (and three of those came in one game, against Marshall). CB Emanuel Davis has some talent, but the safeties really have struggled. The Terps have allowed 22 sacks, but ECU has managed just 15. Edge: Maryland.

East Carolina special teams vs. Maryland special teams: Both have relatively solid units. ECU K Mike Barbour is 14-of-16 on field-goal attempts and is 4-of-6 from beyond 40 yards, with his longest from 52. P Ben Ryan -- like Barbour, is in first season in the starting role -- is averaging 39.8 yards. Harris is a dangerous punt returner, but has struggled a bit as a kickoff returner; Williams actually has done much better in that role this season, including one return for a score. The Pirates' coverage units have been good. Terps K Travis Baltz is 13-of-16 on field-goal attempts, including 3-of-4 from 40 yards and beyond; he also has made a 52-yarder. Baltz doubles as the punter and averages 42.0 yards per boot, with almost a third of his attempts downed inside the 20. Tony Logan has excelled as a punt returner; he averages 18.8 yards on his 30 attempts and has taken back two for TDs. Smith has had a disappointing season as a kickoff returner. The Terps' kickoff coverage has been good, the punt coverage mediocre. One thing to watch: The Terps have blocked four punts and one field goal this season. Edge: Maryland.

X-factor: Maryland's psyche bears watching. Despite the surprisingly successful season, school officials decided to can Friedgen. Are the players going to send him out a winner or are they going to be deflated? In addition, despite an 8-4 record, the Terps were relegated to the worst of the ACC's bowl tie-ins, a postseason game less than an hour's drive from campus.

East Carolina will win if: Davis has to be on fire. The defense is a sieve -- ECU has allowed fewer than 27 points just once and has surrendered more than 40 nine times -- so any game ECU has won has been a shootout. That puts the onus on Davis to throw for at least 350 yards and four TDs.

Maryland will win if: As long as the Terps don't turn it over, they are going to score a lot. That means the defense needs to focus on making ECU one-dimensional on offense. Given that the Pirates throw the ball so well, you have to figure Maryland is going to try to stifle the run. If ECU can run and pass, the Terps are in trouble.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Maryland 31, East Carolina 27
Tom Dienhart: Maryland 44, East Carolina 34
David Fox: East Carolina 38, Maryland 28
Mike Huguenin: Maryland 47, East Carolina 38
Steve Megargee: Maryland 31, East Carolina 24

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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