Terps brace for well-Heeled foe Youthful Maryland meets No. 14 UNC


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Chad Wiestling will look to the sideline, read some signals from inside linebacker coach Mel Foels, then turn into the Maryland defensive huddle and pass the information along to fellow senior Jaime Flores and nine players who weren't there a year ago.

Maryland will then line up against a North Carolina offense that has a graduate student and five fifth-year seniors, four on the offensive line alone.

The Tar Heels could start as many as eight seniors on defense, and that experience carries a clue to routs of Southern Cal and Ohio University, a No. 14 ranking nationally and the 16 1/2 -point spread the oddsmakers have given them over Maryland. The Terps (0-1) get that uphill challenge in an Atlantic Coast Conference game today (1:30 p.m.) at Kenan Stadium.

There's already a buzz about No. 1 Florida State's visit here next week, but North Carolina coach Mack Brown knows that it's unwise to look past a young, rebuilding program such as Maryland's. When Brown took over the Tar Heels in 1988, he was in a situation similar to the one Mark Duffner faced last year.

Brown's first two teams went 1-10, but the seeds for the current success were planted then. Ten North Carolina starters arrived in 1989, and four years later they're the core of a team that is given as good a chance as any in the ACC of being the first to knock off Florida State, which entered the conference last year.

Junior Jason Stanicek, brother of former Oriole Pete Stanicek, and sophomore Mike Thomas have been sharing the quarterback job. They operate the option to near perfection. At tailback, sophomore Curtis Johnson and freshman Leon Johnson have already gained 222 and 241 yards, respectively. But a lot of the credit for the offense's success goes to the anonymous guys on the line.

"We only lost our center from last year's offensive line, and the other four starters are fifth-year seniors," Brown said. "They know what to do; they know what to do with each other. Both of the quarterbacks are comfortable with them."

Veterans abound at North Carolina, which could go to its second straight bowl. Last year it went 9-3, beating Mississippi State, 21-17, in the Peach Bowl. Bernardo Harris had 90 tackles in 1992, and the only Tar Heel outside linebacker to have more since they started keeping track in 1978 was Lawrence Taylor. Free safety Bracey Walker was a second-team ACC all-star.

Split end Corey Holliday, the graduate student, is the Tar Heels' all-time receiving leader, with 108 catches. He and right tackle Ethan Albright played in 1989, when Maryland last beat North Carolina. The Tar Heels handled the Terps in 1990 and '91, but had to rally for a 31-24 victory in College Park last year.

Wiestling, a senior from Greencastle, Pa., is the only Maryland defender who started against North Carolina last year -- outside linebacker Flores was a part-time starter -- but like his younger teammates, Wiestling is going through a learning process. A tight end his first two years, he switched to outside linebacker last season, then moved inside last spring.

Wiestling hasn't had much time to settle into his new position, because he has to shepherd so many rookies. At one time or another, eight freshmen could play defense for Maryland today.

The unit got younger after last week's opener against Virginia, when top defensive lineman Mark Sturdivant broke an ankle. Other injuries cropped up, and true freshmen will replace redshirt freshman tackle Sharrod Mack (ankle) and sophomore linebacker Cleveland Everhart (shoulder), who didn't make the trip.

"It's weird," Wiestling said. "I'm making calls in the huddle for the first time, and every face I see is new, too. I'm not putting any more pressure on myself, but I've got to do my job and make sure everyone else does his, too.

"The new guys can't be freshmen anymore. They have step up right now. We're drilling into their heads that they can do it. They have to do it."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad