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East Carolina (6-6) vs. Maryland (8-4)
Wednesday, December 29th, 2:30 p.m. (et)
From The Sports Network
By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Maryland Terrapins will make the short trip to RFK Stadium in the nation's capital to take on the East Carolina Pirates in the 2010 Military Bowl.
Maryland is making its seventh bowl appearance in the last 10 years under Ralph Friedgen, the reigning ACC Coach of the Year. However, it will be the last Friedgen coaches with the team, as it was announced earlier this month that the final year of his contract will be bought out and he will not be returning to as head coach in 2011.
Athletic Director Kevin Anderson had this to say on the decision to part ways with Friedgen.
"First, I want to take this opportunity to thank and commend our head coach Ralph Friedgen, a Maryland football alumnus who cares deeply about his alma mater and the student-athletes. He took a struggling football program and turned it into a good one. He has raised the bar for our expectations. What's more is that Ralph's final season as our head football coach was a good one. He leaves Maryland as he entered - ACC Coach of the Year and returning us to a bowl game. Today, however, Maryland athletics has made a strategic business decision to buy out the final year of Coach Friedgen's contract, effective January 2nd, 2011."
The Terps have won four of their last five bowl games, and they figure to have plenty of fan support in the house at nearby RFK Stadium.
"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 hope to represent the ACC well in the Military Bowl."
East Carolina will be making its fifth straight bowl appearance, and the Pirates own an 8-8 record all-time in the postseason. They lost to ACC foes Virginia Tech and North Carolina on the road earlier this season, before topping NC State in overtime on October 16th. ECU sputtered down the stretch, dropping four of its final five games after a 5-2 start.
"Preparation is the biggest thing right now," ECU first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill said at the Military Bowl press conference. "We are dealing with finals and traveling. It's in the backyard of the Terrapin fans. For us, this is a ride up I-95."
Maryland finished 5-3 in the ACC, while ECU also had a 5-3 league mark in Conference USA. This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two schools on the gridiron.
The Pirates' strength is their explosive passing attack, which ranks seventh nationally (319.3 ypg). Quarterback Dominique Davis has thrown for 36 touchdowns while completing nearly 65 percent of his passes. His 3,699 passing yards are the fourth-most in the nation. Behind Davis and the passing game, ECU ranks 12th in the nation in scoring offense (38.2 ppg). The Pirates have a pair of top-notch receivers in Lance Lewis and Dwayne Harris, a First Team All-Conference USA pick as both a wideout and punt returner. Lewis has caught 78 passes for 979 yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns, while Harris set single-season school records with 93 catches and 1,055 yards to go along with 10 TDs. Harris ranks seventh nationally with 7.75 receptions per game. In the backfield, Jon Williams has rushed for 846 yards and 10 scores while averaging 5.5 yards per tote.
The defense has been an entirely different story for the Pirates, who have found themselves in shootouts on a weekly basis this season. They rank dead- last out of 120 FBS schools in total defense (478.8 ypg) and also rank 118th in scoring defense (43.4 ppg). Opposing rushing attacks have gashed ECU for 220.8 ypg on the ground, while the Pirates' pass rush has been virtually invisible, ranking 105th nationally in sacks (1.17 per game). The aptly named Dustin Lineback paces the unit with 111 tackles from his spot in the middle of the field, while Bradley Jacobs headlines the secondary with a team-high three interceptions and nine passes defensed. The Pirates have allowed 40-plus points in each of their last five games, including 76 to Navy on November 6th and 62 at Rice two weeks later. With more than a month between the regular- season finale and this bowl game, coach McNeill and his staff will need to go back to the drawing board to try and tighten things up defensively.
Maryland posted a six-win increase from a year ago, marking the second-best turnaround in the FBS this season. However, the Terps suffered a pair of late- season losses to division leaders Florida State and Miami to finish one game shy of qualifying for the ACC title game. Now, they must be careful to avoid any kind of emotional letdown.
The Terps' offense has been anything but dynamic, as they rank 85th nationally in total offense (342.4 ypg) and have had virtually no running game (124.9 ypg). However, in their last three wins the Terps have averaged an impressive 47 points against the likes of Wake Forest, Virginia and NC State. Maryland's regular season ended with a 38-31 win over the 21st-ranked Wolfpack, in which Danny O'Brien threw for a career-high 417 yards and four TDs. Torrey Smith caught all four of those touchdowns and finished with 224 yards on 14 catches. Most impressive was the fact that Maryland's offense was able to impose its will against an NC State squad that need a victory to secure a spot in the ACC title game.
After the game, coach Friedgen spoke glowingly about his signal-caller.
"I was really impressed with the poise and accuracy which (O'Brien) had," Friedgen said. "It was one of the better performances I've seen by a quarterback. I was very impressed with him."
On the season, O'Brien has completed only 56.8 percent of his passes while averaging a rather ordinary 188.1 passing yards per tilt. However, he has thrown 21 touchdowns against only six interceptions, and if he can build off his last performance, it would certainly be a huge boost for the Terps' chances. Smith has caught 65 passes for 1,045 yards and 12 TDs, and he'll no doubt be eager to work his magic against ECU's leaky secondary.
Maryland's Tony Logan ranks third in the nation in punt return average (18.8) and has returned two for touchdowns this season. His abilities in the return game have been a major factor in the field position game for Maryland. Defensively, the Terps match up well with ECU's vaunted passing attack, as they rank ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense. Five different players have notched multiple interceptions, led by Adrian Moten's four picks and 10 passes defensed. Senior linebacker Alex Wujciak has a team-high 112 tackles, while defensive tackle Joe Vellano leads the way with five sacks. In their most recent outing, the Terps yielded 32 first downs and 434 total yards to NC State, but O'Brien and Smith were able to atone for that. Despite allowing the yards to pile up, the defense did manage four sacks and three forced fumbles for the game. Antwine Perez led the way with 11 tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the win.
In the 15 years prior to Friedgen's arrival, Maryland had made only one postseason appearance. Now, the Terps expect to get to a bowl game, and win it, on a yearly basis. Friedgen's squad boasts the seventh-best turnover margin in the land, and that should play a big role against an ECU squad that can score points in bunches. Add that to the fact that the team will undoubtedly want to send Friedgen out on a winning note, and the scales are certainly tipping in Maryland's favor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Maryland 41, East Carolina 34
12/25 10:19:47 ET