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November 30, 2013

Game breakdown: Maryland

Randy Edsall weekly press conference

Keys To The Game

End the skid: NC State has been adamant all week about playing this weekend for its senior class and sending it out with a victory. The Pack is also playing for pride and trying to avoid the school's first winless ACC campaign since 1959.

If there is one thing that can be said about this Wolfpack team, it is that it has not given up yet, regardless of the situation. The Pack was outscored 42-0 by Florida State in the first half, but outscored the Seminoles 17-7 after the break. That fight isn't always present in a 3-8 squad, but this is one that refuses to give up. There is no reason to think that will change in the last outing of the year.

If Maryland, which has already become bowl eligible, relaxes on the road, NC State should be able to take advantage and strike. The Pack has also performed much better at home than on the road this year, and should take advantage of the emotions of the home crowd on Senior Day. NCSU has outscored opponents 182-168 inside of Carter-Finley Stadium, while suffering a 153-71 disadvantage on the road.

Make C.J. Brown uncomfortable: Redshirt junior quarterback C.J. Brown has missed two games due to injury this year. However, if there is one constant from the other nine games, it is that when Brown plays well the Terrapins win, and when he doesn't play well they lose.

In the five wins with Brown starting, the quarterback has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,178 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions while also rushing 68 times for 405 yards and eight scores. In four losses, Brown has completed 56.0 percent of his passes for 608 yards with just one touchdown against four interceptions, and he has rushed 38 times for minus-five yards and a touchdown.

It seems the key is keeping Brown, who has six career 100-yard rushing games, contained in the pocket and making him uncomfortable. NC State should bring the pressure and make the signal-caller beat them without the use of his top two wide receivers — sophomore Stefon Diggs and junior Deon Long. Maryland has won just once since losing Diggs and Long, and that was when Brown rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing for another, against Virginia Tech.

Don't settle for field goals: The Pack did a great job of this last weekend against East Carolina, but wasup against a more powerful offense with more ammo. That shouldn't be the case this Saturday, and if the Pack can finish its drives with touchdowns, it should put itself in a great position to beat Maryland.

NCSU entered last week's game with 11 red-zone touchdowns in 30 chances, but went 3 of 4 against ECU. It was a pleasant change and one that NC State needs to continue.

Win the turnover battle: One of NC State's biggest problems this year has been its inability to win the turnover battle, doing so just three times through 11 games. Yet the Pack still has a better turnover margin than Maryland, which has forced 21 turnovers but given up an ACC-worst 26, including 17 fumbles. If there is one team that is prone to miscues more than State it is Maryland, which has also won the turnover battle in just three contests.

Game outlook: Not only does NC State want to get a conference victory to send the seniors off on a good note and avoid a winless ACC campaign, but the entire conference will be pulling for the Wolfpack to say goodbye to the Big Ten-bound Terps with a loss in their final league tilt.

Maryland, much like State, has battled injury woes this year, but it did manage to pull out a 27-24 victory in overtime at Virginia Tech Nov. 16. That clinched bowl eligibility for the school for the first time under head coach Randy Edsall, but also marks its only win in the last five contests.

NC State is fortunate to play the Terps at the end of the season, as opposed to the beginning, when they started 4-0. The Pack has a chance in this one, but it's understandable that the visitors are favored. If the crowd brings it for Senior Day, maybe the Pack can ride that emotion to a victory and head into Dave Doeren's first full offseason with a little momentum for the future.

Five Maryland Players To Watch

Redshirt junior quarterback C.J. Brown — The 6-3, 210-pounder missed the 2012 season after suffering an ACL tear during fall camp. The dual-threat quarterback passed for 166 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 77 yards and two scores in NCSU's wild 56-41 comeback victory Nov. 26, 2011. Brown has completed 139 of 233 passes for 1,786 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions this season. He has rushed for more than 100 yards on six occasions during his career. He has tallied 400 yards and nine touchdowns on 106 rushing attempts this season.

Sophomore kicker Brad Craddock — The Australian missed a crucial 33-yard field goal and an extra point in NC State's 20-18 win over the Terrapins last year, and he finished the 2012 season 10 of 16 on field goal tries with a long of 52. He has, however, emerged as one of the top kickers in the country this season. Craddock has made 17 of 21 field goal attempts with a long of 50 (his misses are from 35, 42, 50 and 51 yards), and he is also 30 of 31 on extra point tries. Earlier this fall, he made three field goals against Florida International, UConn and West Virginia.

Sophomore wide receiver Levern Jacobs — Maryland lost starting wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to season-ending broken legs against Wake Forest in the seventh game of the season Oct. 19. The 5-11, 185-pound Jacobs has caught 21 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown in the three games since. The speedster has 34 catches for 472 yards and two touchdowns for the season, highlighted by a monster performance against Clemson in a 40-27 loss Oct. 26. He caught eight passes for 158 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers.

Freshman cornerback/return man William Likely — The 5-7, 175-pound former Rivals.com four-star prospect moved into the starting lineup in the fourth game of the season. Likely is tied for fifth on the team with 51 tackles, and he has two interceptions, one sack, six passes defended and one fumble recovery. He has returned 15 punts for an average of 13.3 yards and brought one back 63 yards for a touchdown in the win over Virginia Tech. He also is averaging 26.2 yards on 22 kick returns with a long of 50.

Senior outside linebacker Marcus Whitfield — The 6-3, 250-pounder leads the Terrapins with 13 tackles for loss that have resulted in a staggering minus-98 yards, plus has eight sacks. He forms a tough one-two punch with junior defensive end Andre Monroe, who has 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss (minus-61 yards). Whitfield is in his first year starting for Maryland and he tied his sacks total from his first three years when he had three sacks (including a safety) against UConn Sept. 14.

Three Matchups To Watch

1. Despite ups and downs this season, the Terrapins are 6-5 heading into their final ACC game Saturday at NC State. Redshirt junior quarterback C.J. Brown started for the Terrapins in their last trip to Raleigh in 2011, which was a memorable comeback victory by NC State. Brown has rushed for more than 100 yards in three different games this year, and passed for more than 210 yards in five contests. Brown's ability to create pressure on a defense with his legs is what led to him beating out incumbent Danny O'Brien in the first place in 2011. However, Brown's passing has steadily improved.

2. Teams with star wide receivers have hurt NC State this season, and ECU's Justin Hardy was the latest last week. Hardy caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown during the Pirates' 42-28 victory. Star sophomore wide receiver Stefon Diggs led the passing game and return game, but he and junior college transfer Deon Long both broke their legs against Wake Forest Oct. 19.

The duo has been replaced by sophomores Levern Jacobs and Nigel King, and freshman Amba Etta-Tawo. Jacobs leads the group with 34 catches for 472 yards and two touchdowns.

NC State redshirt sophomore cornerback Juston Burris of Raleigh Broughton High could possibly be lined up against a familiar face in King. The 6-3, 205-pound King attended Raleigh Wakefield his first three years, and has 29 catches for 365 yards and three scores this season.

3. Maryland expected to have a four-year starter at left tackle, to protect the blindside of Brown. Then a very unusual situation took place before the Syracuse game Nov. 9. Sophomore Mike Madaras quit the team, publicly saying his heart wasn't in playing football anymore, and he dropped out of school. Madaras had played in 12 games as a freshman, starting eight, and was a highly regarded Rivals.com three-star prospect out of Good Counsel High in Olney, Md.

NC State will surely attack his replacement with pass-rushing defensive ends Art Norman, a redshirt junior, and Darryl Cato-Bishop, a fifth-year senior. Madaras' replacement will, however, have a few fans at Carter-Finley Stadium cheering for him.

Redshirt sophomore Ryan Doyle of Wake Forest-Rolesville High in Wake Forest, N.C., has started all 11 games for Maryland this season, but moved from right tackle to left tackle two games ago. The 6-4, 295-pounder made his college debut against NC State last year.

Three Questions With Maryland Head Coach Randy Edsall

How will the team shift focus to NC State after a difficult 29-26 loss to Boston College on the last play of the game Saturday?

"I am happy with the way that we fought all the way through the end [last week against Boston College]. We came up a little bit short, and fighting through is exactly what we're going to continue to do. We're going to continue to work and keep getting better.

"So what you do is go back to work [starting Sunday] and get better. That is the way we are going to approach it. We had a great effort and the kids really fought hard. We just came off a little bit short."

How emotional have the last two weeks been with the team earning bowl eligibility against Virginia Tech, but then falling on a 52-yard field goal against Boston College?

"I think the kids worked very hard last week and this week. It's just one of those things where they are going to continue to work hard.

"We're going to give everything that we've got and work to the best of our abilities to do all the things we've got to do."

After the Virginia Tech win, some of the players were saying how getting that sixth win and bowl eligibility was like taking a monkey off their back, alleviating the burden. What do you think about that?

"You know, I think there is something to that. And again, I know — we know the goals that they have and what they want to accomplish, and I think that they knew the magic number, the least to be eligible, doesn't guarantee anything, but you have to continue — we got that and we have two more games to go.

"Now I think what they want to do is just continue to work to get better. They are not satisfied with six wins."

Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren

How has the team stayed together during the seven-game losing streak and kept playing hard until the end of each contest?

"We are a very strong team from a chemistry standpoint. We've spent a ton of time talking about the values of our program. I think every player and coach to a man has grown a lot this year. Our guys love each other and we care a lot about our players. We push them hard and they practice hard. That isn't going to stop.

"I think everybody in our locker room, in our building and in our administration knows where our program is heading. They're going to keep playing and fighting. I know they're disappointed in the end result, so are we as coaches — we want to taste that victory and savor the work — and we're not getting there, but we sure aren't giving in, either."

What motivation exists for the program in sending the seniors off a winner on Senior Day against Maryland?

"It's Senior Day coming up next week and we have some tremendous seniors that deserve the same thing they [Wolfpack fans] gave them [against ECU].

"I want to go out this season with a win with our seniors. They've done everything we've asked them to do. We need to come together the next seven days and move forward."

What have you learned from this season that will help moving forward?

"We're going to be scarred and we're going to have a very challenging offseason, but everything we've been through this year will make us twice as strong next year.

"I know I'm a better coach for it and I know our players will be mentally tougher and humbled from the experience. It's going to be a very good offseason to grow as a football team, and we will."

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