Maryland has broken a lot of habits this season. And Saturday in a regionally televised Atlantic Coast Conference game (WDVM-TV-9, 12:30 p.m.), the Terrapins will try to break another against 10th-ranked North Carolina.

A victory by the Terrapins at sold-out Kenan Stadium would break a pattern of winning routine games and losing big ones. It also would impress several bowl representatives who will be present and keep the Terrapins, who have won five straight, in contention for their first ACC championship since 1976.

Coach Bobby Ross knows Maryland teams often have played well in games of this importance, but just as often have made an untimely mistake that brought defeat.

"I don't know if we're over that, or if it will even be a factor on Saturday," Ross said. "But if we want our program on a national scale, this is the type of game we want to win.

"I would really be disappointed if we don't have poise," he added. "I don't want us to blow this game. I'd be disappointed if we did."

Senior Howard Eubanks said, "I would think this is our big chance to erase the stigma that people have about Maryland making crucial mistakes in big games."

But as Ross pointed out earlier this week, Maryland will have to play extremely well to beat Carolina, which is ranked first in the nation in total defense and fourth in total offense.

"We've got to be very exact," Ross said. "Exact to the point that we step this far with the left foot and this far with the right. I think the players learned enough about playing close games on the road (losses at Penn State and West Virginia) to avoid the jitters against North Carolina."

Entering Saturday's game, Maryland (5-2) and Clemson are 3-0 in the ACC and Carolina is 2-0. North Carolina (5-1) plays at Clemson next week. Clemson, idle this week, visits Maryland on Nov. 13.

"I'm not surprised Maryland is in the middle of this," Carolina Coach Dick Crum said this week. "I thought they could recover quickly (from last season's 4-6-1 record). "They're playing very intelligently this year."

Crum was referring primarily to Maryland's new diversified offense, which has scored 15 touchdowns rushing and 13 passing. With North Carolina's rushing defense ranked No. 1 in the nation, it is likely Maryland will pass more.

The Terrapins have enough wide-outs and receivers out of the backfield to keep off balance every defense they've faced.

"We lost to Penn State and West Virginia (39-31 and 19-18), but we scored a lot of points on those people," said Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason. "I don't think anybody can totally shut us down. Our offense offers a lot."

So does Carolina's defense. "Who are their standouts?" Ross asked rhetorically. "Everybody.

"On film, there are things in their defense that you can take advantage of, like anybody else. There are holes. But my, they close fast. It's a very sophisticated, concealed defense."

The Tar Heels, led by tackle William Fuller and linebacker Mike Wilcher (of Eastern High School in Washington, D.C.), rarely blitz or stunt, but still put tremendous pressure on the quarterback.

"Boomer took a lickin' last year against Carolina," Ross said. "They're just quick and fast and adept at rushing the passer. We'll have to protect him."

Maryland's defensive assignment will be just as difficult. Carolina has a huge and experienced offensive line and three tailbacks who average at least 80 yards per game on the ground.

Kelvin Bryant, Tyrone Anthony and Ethan Horton have helped Carolina average 303 yards per game on the ground, but Saturday they will run against a defense that has allowed only 66 yards per game rushing.

"For two weeks in a row (against Wake Forest and Duke), we've worried about the pass only, and we've gotten soft," Ross said of his rushing defense. "Now, we've got to go back to being hard."

And just in case Maryland is too hard to run against, Crum says he expects to "throw just as many times as Maryland."

Said Ross with a smile: "They've probably got some new things ready. But maybe we'll have something for them, too."

Ross said cornerback Jon Simmons, who had surgery this week to repair ligament and cartilage tears in his right knee, is out for the season . . . Ross is contemplating replacing Mike Lewis, his regular punt returner, with Tim Quander, who also returns kickoffs. Lewis fumbled a punt against Duke and another against West Virginia. Quander has done well this season, returning one kickoff 74 yards against Duke.