Up-and-down Wake worries Friedgen

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe did his best this week to convince anyone listening that his football team has little shot at a victory at home today against Maryland.

"We're going to have to really play above our heads to have a chance," Grobe said.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, in turn, did his best to ignore whatever Grobe said.

"You tell him Coach Friedgen's not falling for that one," Friedgen said. "Wake Forest will be very ready for us. They have a very good football team. He's an excellent coach, and I have the utmost respect for him and his program."

Friedgen is at least half right. Wake Forest (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has - at times - looked like a great football team this year. The Demon Deacons started the season 3-1, with wins over Boston College and North Carolina State, and were ranked in the Top 25. But it has been a bumpy 2-5 ride since.

Grobe's young team has been sometimes brilliant, but also stunningly inconsistent. The Demon Deacons pounded Clemson, 45-17, on Nov. 1, but then gave up 93 points in back-to-back losses to North Carolina (42-34) and Connecticut (51-17).

"We played poorly the past two football games," Grobe said. "It's tough, because depending on how we play against Maryland, we could come out of the season with a bad taste in our mouth, when in reality, our players have pretty much overachieved this year."

The Demon Deacons were coming off back-to-back winning seasons, and in 2002, they went to a bowl game (a 38-17 win over Oregon in the Seattle Bowl) for just the sixth time. Not unlike Friedgen, Grobe appeared to have turned a longtime ACC also-ran into a contender with the 3-1 start, including a 38-24 win over then-No. 14 N.C. State.

Grobe, however, figured this team's youth would eventually haunt him, and he was right. Wake Forest starts six underclassmen on offense, including sophomore quarterback Cory Randolph. (Wake was the only ACC team that didn't have a quarterback on its roster with at least one career start coming into this season.)

Randolph has played well, helping Wake Forest's option running attack lead the league in rushing for the third straight season. But defensively, with only two seniors in the starting lineup, it's been a struggle. The Demon Deacons are giving up 446.6 yards a game.

"I think some people probably thought we'd win one or two games this year," Grobe said. "[But after the 2-0 start] expectations went out of sight. That was probably unrealistic for the number of young players we've got on our team right now."

Unlike Wake Forest - which becomes bowl eligible with a victory -- Maryland (8-3, 5-2) doesn't need this game. The Terps are headed to the Gator Bowl regardless.

Friedgen insists there is still plenty of motivation, however. With two more victories, Maryland will have won at least 10 games for the third straight season, a first for the school. It's also possible that the Terps could sneak back into the Top 25 with a victory, a place they haven't been since a 20-13 loss to Northern Illinois in week one.

But it won't be easy.

"In some ways, I think this is a tougher situation than what we went into last week," Friedgen said of the win at N.C. State. "The focus with the bowl bid, with Thanksgiving, might be elsewhere. If we think we're going to go down there and mail it in, it ain't going to happen."

Today's also the last ACC game for Maryland's senior class. A win assures them of sole possession of second place.

"Realizing it's almost over definitely makes you want to go out on the right note," said safety Madieu Williams. "You just want to go out there and lay everything on the line for this team."

NOTES: Friedgen told his team to be on its best behavior on the flight yesterday. That's because a special guest was coming along: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "It's a great time with this program," Ehrlich told the Associated Press at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. "Three bowls in a row, big-time bowls. The expectation level has been raised." Ehrlich, a linebacker at Princeton, said he regularly talks with Friedgen and was invited to come along on a road game. ... Cornerback Curome Cox (leg bruise) is still questionable today. If he can't play, sophomore Jamal Chance will start. ... A win today would give Friedgen 30.

Today's game

Maryland (8-3, 5-2 ACC) at Wake Forest (5-6, 3-4)

Site: Groves Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Time: 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 8

Series: Maryland leads 37-13-1

Last meeting: Maryland defeated Wake Forest, 32-14, in College Park

Last week: Maryland defeated N.C. State, 26-24; Connecticut beat Wake Forest, 51-17, on Nov. 15.

Maryland offense vs. Wake Forest defense: It's unclear whether sophomore RB Josh Allen will play today (he is nursing an ankle sprain), but either way, senior Bruce Perry will make his fourth start of the year. Two seasons ago, Perry rushed for 276 yards against Wake Forest in a 27-20 win and had scoring runs of 80 and 50 yards. The Demon Deacons defense has struggled, giving up 446 yards a game. Wake CB Eric King is one of the ACC's better players, however (14 pass breakups, three interceptions).

Maryland defense vs. Wake Forest offense: Wake Forest leads the ACC in rushing (193 yards a game) for the third year in a row. RB Chris Barclay is third in the league, averaging 86.3 yards. Wake Forest has shown some improvement in its passing game lately. Cory Randolph threw for 311 yards against North Carolina. Maryland counters with a defense now the best in the ACC, giving up 304 yards a game.

Special teams: Maryland K Nick Novak hit the third game-winning field goal of his career last week. Wake Forest P Ryan Plackemeier was named first-team All-ACC, and is sixth in the country with a 45.8-yard average.

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