Coach Jerry Claiborne's pet project - the special teams - helped 12th-ranked Maryland obliterate 19th-ranked North Carolina State yesterday, 31-7, before a homecoming crowd of 45,319 at Byrd Stadium.

The victory extended the Terps' record to 5-0, and 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland now has won nine games in a row dating back to last season.

The loss sent the Wolfpack tumbling out of the national rankings and probably out of the ACC title race. They are 4-1 overall, 1-1 in the ACC.

The Maryland defense was its usual gruesome self and tailback Steve Atkins gained his 100-plus yards for the fifth straight game. He also returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown while outdueling hobbled Heisman Trophy candidate Ted Brown, 132 yards to 78.

Those contributions were important, but so were Claiborne's special teams. They accounted not only for the three points that kept them ahead early in the game (on Ed Loncar's 38-yard field goal) but also for 14 thrilling points in nine seconds of the third quarter that padded the lead to an untouchable 24-7.

The Wolfpack had struggled to get as close as 10-7, with Brown's right knee bandaged to the size of a canteloupe. Brown sat out the first quarter, Coach Bo Rein hoping he wouldn't be needed. But after Brown returned, he propelled them to their only score. Scott Smith's two-yard run capped a 33-yard drive set up by Eric Sievers' fumble after a reception.

The touchdown made it 10-7 Maryland with 11:27 left in the third quarter.

"Twenty seconds later," said Rein, "it was all over."

Twenty-five seconds, to be exact.

Atkins returned N.C. State's kickoff 98 yards for one touchdown. Nine seconds later, Steve Trible recovered a fumble in the end zone on Maryland's kickoff for the 24-7 lead with 11:02 left in the period.

"I got tired of them kicking away from me, so I ran across the field and caught it," said Atkins. "The line just blew them out. I didn't see anything but daylight."

The hole opened at the left sideline, and only one player stood between Atkins and the end zone. The biggest guy on the Maryland team, 6-foot-4, 280-pound Larry Stewart, looked at the Wolfpack player on the N.C. State 20-yard line for an agonizing moment and finally blocked him, his foot catching Atkins' on the way by.

"I almost lost it," said Atkins.But he kept his balance and blew into the end zone for Maryland's first score this year on a kickoff return.

After Loncar kicked the extra point, he kicked off, "and put the ball right where we wanted it," said Claiborne. It was at the left hashmark on the 15.

There, Dwight Sullivan caught the ball, cut to his right, saw Todd Benson approaching and reverse. But Benson wrapped himself around Sullivan's chest.

"I just tried to hit him," the seldom-used Benson said. "I didn't know the ball came loose until I came up. I was at the bottom, under all those people."

The ball squirted backward and rolled into the end zone, where Maryland's John Baldante and an N.C. State player fell on it simultaneously.

"The ball came loose again," said Trimble, who was following Baldante, "and I just fell on it."

It was trimble's fumble last Saturday that set up Kentucky's only score, a field goal.So he had settle his score.

The Wolfpack became noticeably distressed and spent the rest of the third quarter punting and throwing interceptions, one to Baldante at safety and another to linebacker Brian Matera.

Matera's, at the State 48; set up the Terps' final scoring drive. It ended with Tim O'Hare's nine-yard scoring pass to wide-open Gary Ellis in the end zone.

That and Alvin (Preacher) Maddox's eight-yard touchdown run on Maryland's first possession of the game were all the offense had to contribute.

Would it have been a different game had Brown played the first quarter? It was in that period that Maryland cruised to a 10-0 lead while State groped for a total of seven yards.

"I'm sure he (Brown) would have made a difference," said Claiborne. "But not a 24-point difference."

Rein said, "If we'd gotten that first down on the first series (Terp guard Kevin Haussmann stopped it with a quarterback sackle it might have proved a little different. Our defense played pretty well, but our offense doesn't play catchup all that well. We really never got a chance to settle down and play.

"We got beat by a good football team. We'll never know how good, because we didn't challenge them."

What Rein meant by not being able to play catchup is that quarterback Smith is not overwhelming adept at completing passes. He connected on just five of 15 throws, turned over the ball twice on interceptions and netted just 55 yards in the air, 34 coming on one pass late in the game.

O'Hare amassed just 8 yards on seven of 17 passes, but he had support from Maddox, who gained 44 yards on 11 carries, and Atkins.

State rushed for 144 yards but had to carry 55 times to do it.