Wednesday, December 15, 2010
East Carolina-Maryland Preview
It didn't take long for Maryland to recover from a lousy season and return to a bowl. East Carolina's high-octane passing game is a big reason why the team is playing in its fifth straight postseason.
The Terrapins look to cap their turnaround with a win when they meet the high-scoring Pirates for the first time in the Military Bowl at RFK Stadium on Dec. 29.
Maryland (8-4) is back in a bowl game for the first time since beating Nevada 42-35 in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise.
This contest will be much closer to home for the Terps, as RFK is located roughly 10 miles from campus.
Maryland's return to the postseason came after the Terps dropped their last seven games of 2009 and finished 2-10.
Coach Ralph Friedgen, though, quickly got things turned around and earned conference coach of the year honors in the process. The Terps were beaten out by Florida State by one game for an ACC title game berth, and the Seminoles had them to thank.
Maryland ended the regular season with a 38-31 upset of then-No. 21 North Carolina State 38-31 on Nov. 27, costing the Wolfpack the appearance.
Following up that victory with a win in the Military Bowl would complete an impressive bounce-back season.
"We are looking forward to playing in another bowl game," Friedgen said. "Our kids have worked really hard this season and it's a tribute to them that we've reached the postseason again. We have a chance to send a message to people that didn't pick us for a bowl game that we can support a bowl game.
"This is in our backyard."
While Maryland should have plenty of fans on hand, East Carolina (6-6) is also expecting to have strong support at RFK, which is located approximately 280 miles from Greenville, N.C.
"It's in the backyard of the Terrapin fans. For us, this is a ride up (Interstate) 95," first-year coach Ruffin McNeill said. "A lot of our family and team members are from the Virginia, D.C. and Maryland areas."
The Pirates are in a bowl for the fifth consecutive season, qualifying despite dropping four of their last five. They lost 20-17 in overtime to Arkansas in last year's Liberty Bowl and have gone 1-3 in their four consecutive postseason appearances.
"There are 35 bowl games and only 70 teams playing in bowl games," McNeill said. "We're one of them. I feel very proud about that fact."
The Pirates are centered around a passing game that is among the best in the nation, averaging 319.3 yards with 37 touchdowns.
Dominique Davis shattered team records with 36 TD passes, 3,699 yards and 358 completions -- 99 more than the previous mark. The junior, in his first season at East Carolina, connected on 64.9 percent of his throws and had 14 interceptions.
Davis threw 18 TDs and four picks while posting a 145.2 rating over the last five games.
Receivers Dwayne Harris and Lance Lewis are Davis' top targets. Harris has a Conference USA-high 93 receptions along with 1,055 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Lewis' 78 catches are third in the league, and he has a team-best 13 TD receptions and 979 yards.
"It's different," Friedgen said of the Pirates offense. "They do a good job of protecting and they've got some really skilled wide receivers and the quarterback is a very good athlete and has a strong arm. They move the ball and score a lot of points. Our defense is really going to be tested."
While East Carolina's offensive power is clear, the defense has had major problems. The unit is the worst in the country, allowing averages of 43.4 points and 478.8 yards -- 220.8 rushing.
The Pirates have given up 54.8 points per game over the last five contests.
Terps freshman Danny O'Brien is coming off a stellar performance in the season finale, going 33 of 47 for 417 yards and throwing four touchdowns to Torrey Smith. O'Brien has 21 scoring passes and six interceptions.
Smith is tied for the ACC lead with 12 TD catches. He had 224 yards receiving against N.C. State.