Bobby Ross said his Maryland offense played just about flawlessly in the first half. But that still doesn't begin to describe how perfectly potent the Terrapins were in wrecking North Carolina State, 44-21, yesterday at Byrd Stadium.

Maryland gained 590 yards of total offense, 334 rushing. Rick Badanjek, a junior fullback, rushed 19 times for 95 yards and three touchdowns. And Doug Burmeister, who had never run with a football in his five years at Maryland, carried 10 times for 82 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown -- all in the fourth quarter as Maryland built a 44-7 lead.

"Coach Ross told us before the game we were on the verge of exploding," Badanjek said.

Yesterday's explosion, with the aid of three N.C. State turnovers in the second quarter, put Maryland (3-3, 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) in sole possession of first place in the league.

"We're at the critical point in our season," quarterback Stan Gelbaugh said. "We had to win today or our season goes down the tubes."

The only pivotal play of the game came toward the end of the first quarter when Maryland held on fourth and one at its 33. Chuck Faucette and Ted Chapman stopped Vince Evans, State's leading rusher, for no gain.

"When you're teetering anyway, you can look at individual plays," said N.C. State Coach Tom Reed. "Was it big? It possibly could have been."

Maryland got its second touchdown from Badanjek on the ensuing possession to make it 14-7. Faucette's interception and return to the State six let Maryland increase its lead to 17-7 with a 21-yard field goal from Jess Atkinson.

Joe McIntosh's fumble at his 26 set up Maryland in good field position again and Badanjek scored his third touchdown on a two-yard run for 24-7. Atkinson added field goals of 35 and 43 yards -- the first after Al Covington's interception -- for a 30-7 halftime lead.

The rest of the Maryland highlights were provided by the defense, which stopped State on four downs inside the five in the third quarter; by Gelbaugh, who completed 10 straight passes in one stretch and finished with 16 for 26, 230 yards, and by Burmeister, from Oakton High, who has played five positions at Maryland.

"It was my last game in Byrd Stadium," Burmeister said. "I was hoping."

So were most of the 43,450 homecoming fans, many of whom have watched Burmeister play linebacker, defensive end and a variety of special teams assignments.

When he broke into the clear on his 17-yard touchdown run with only one defender to beat, Burmeister remembered thinking, "You gotta score this time; you might not get another chance."

Maryland set a goal of 300 yards rushing before the game. And the Terrapins accomplished it by running directly at N.C. State.

"We're weak up the middle," said Reed. "We've known that from Day 1 when that Ohio University fullback went nine yards up the middle against us. If I was someone else, I'd run the ball against us, too."

Ross said his game plan was to attack N.C. State inside and outside. But his offensive linemen slip-blocked perfectly against N.C. State's defensive linemen who usually slant at the line of scrimmage. This time, they slanted right into the Maryland line, which was basically in a zone blocking scheme.

As Badanjek pointed out, all the backs had to do was get outside or cut back. The holes were enormous and consistent. "It looked like fun," Maryland defensive guard Bruce Mesner said.

The defense had fun, too, especially when cornerback Keeta Covington and outside linebacker Terry Burke dropped State's Joe Moore for a three-yard loss on fourth and goal from the one.

McIntosh, who rushed for 138 yards in his team's upset of Georgia Tech last week, gained only 64 in 12 carries against Maryland. Vince Evans, who was averaging 84 yards rushing per game, had 53 in 12 carries.

The Wolfpack (3-3, 1-1) ran 40 times for 128 yards, while quarterback Tim Esposito completed 14 of 26 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. One had to wonder why N.C. State wasn't throwing more often against Maryland, which was next to last in the ACC in pass defense.

Esposito used a 45-yard completion to Haywood Jeffires, and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Wall to tie the game, 7-7. But State threw only eight passes in the first half.

"I guess that is surprising," Mesner said, "but running is their bread and butter. It's what they've done real well, and I guess they wanted to stay with it."

Maryland did more running -- Alvin Blount carried 11 times for 78 yards and Tommy Neal 15 times for 68. But Gelbaugh, in his second start in place of the injured Frank Reich, was impressive enough to force Ross into a major decision.

Maryland has an open date Saturday, but before its game against Duke on Oct. 27, Ross will have to decide between Reich, who ranks among the national leaders in passing efficiency, and Gelbaugh.

Gelbaugh might not even be able to reclaim his old job -- punting -- since freshman Darryl Wright averaged 51 yards on two punts.

"If I have to go back to second team, I'll go back and do the best I can to be prepared," Gelbaugh said. "You can't just put Frank on the shelf, but I deserve a shot, too."

On Gelbaugh's two-yard touchdown run -- which made it 37-7 -- he was supposed to hand off to the tailback, but had noticed the N.C. State defense "had been ignoring me after I handed off. So I made the call on my own."

Gelbaugh didn't call attention to himself until he had taken the bootleg into the end zone without getting as much as a hard stare from the Wolfpack defenders.