If the North Carolina State football team wasn't in enough trouble last week when it lost a home game to Division I-AA Furman, it certainly will be tonight at 7 when a slightly angered Maryland team comes to Raleigh for its Atlantic Coast Conference opener.
Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, Duke will visit Virginia in another ACC game that should tell how improved the Blue Devils really are, and whether last week's loss to Navy was just a fluke for the Cavaliers.
The Wolfpack would have difficulty beating Maryland at any point this season. But after last week's 20-0 loss at Michigan, the Terrapins might take out about 50 points' worth of frustration on N.C. State.
"This is an important game for us. We've got to get back on track, back to winning," Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said. "We've got to get back to doing things the right way."
Ross has juggled his lineup, somewhat because of injuries and partly to get a better performance from his offense, which had its worst game in four years last week.
Stephon Scriber will start at fullback in place of senior Rick Badanjek, who has a sprained ankle but will play. Defensive guard Bruce Mesner has a pinched nerve in his neck and will play, but he might not start. Chris Knight will start at tight end in place of Ferrell Edmunds, who has started the last 13 games. But Ross said the two will split playing time. James Milling has played his way into equal playing time with starter Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof.
Probably, there will be room for everybody because N.C. State doesn't appear to be able to stop Maryland.
That's not an opinion shared by Ross, who had just finished looking at 90 minutes of N.C. State film when he said, "This is a funny team to figure. If you look at the film, you don't understand why they lost to Furman as they did (42-20).
"They're ahead of Georgia Tech, 7-0, and it's still a good game at 7-7 before the half. Then, all of a sudden a punt gets blocked, then there's an interception or a fumble. And whoppo, it's 21-7. That seems to happen to them a lot. Something bad just happens to them."
As Ross pointed out, the Wolfpack does have the skill position players to score points. Vince Evans rushed for nearly 900 yards last year and is a solid, all-purpose back. Erik Kramer is a better-than-average quarterback.
"I can't put my finger on it," Ross said. "To me, they're a potentially good football team. They've got several guys who were starters last year running second and third team now."
Virginia (2-1, 1-0) shouldn't have any trouble with Duke (2-1, 0-0) at Scott Stadium (7 p.m.), in a game that may answer some questions about the Cavaliers, who have been mercurial thus far. They have yet to get their offense and defense working at the same time, and Coach George Welsh is beginning to get worried since the ACC part of the schedule is beginning in earnest.
"It's not late yet, but it's getting to that point," Welsh said. "Things have to start coming into place, otherwise it's too late and you never get them."
A Virginia offense widely thought to be second only to Maryland in the ACC has scored 37 points in the last two games, including last week's 17-13 upset loss to Navy. The Cavaliers have scored just three points in the second half in that span. Although quarterback Don Majkowski has been successful with the option half of the offense, they are seeking more flair in the passing game.
"We won't do anything new," Welsh said. "We just need to execute what we have a little better."
Injuries are part of Virginia's problem. Flanker John Ford is still recovering from calcium deposits in a knee and Welsh is considering redshirting him. Quanah Bullock has recovered from a bruised shoulder and will start against the Blue Devils. Offensive guard Mike Battle is recovered from a torn shoulder muscle and will dress but probably won't start. The most worrisome is tight end Geno Zimmerlink, who still is troubled by a sprained foot and is questionable.
Surprisingly, Duke's defense is ranked eighth in the nation against the run, allowing 79 yards a game. But the Blue Devils, who had last week off, have yet to face a strong offensive team, their victories coming against Northwestern (40-17) and Ohio (34-13), with the lone loss to West Virginia (20-18).
The rushing defense stats may rise considerably against a Virginia backfield averaging 252.3 yards. Senior tailback Barry Word, alternating with Howard Petty, is ranked sixth in the nation, averaging 144.7 yards, and fullbacks Keith Vanderbeek (bruised shoulder) and Antonio Rice (dislocated shoulder) are recovered from their ailments, which helps considerably.
"If they hold us to that (79 yards), we probably won't win," Welsh said.
Duke's offense has been slowed by quarterback Steve Slayden's ongoing trouble with a stiff shoulder, but he is expected to start. The team is averaging 395.7 yards total offense and leading the ACC in scoring with 92 points. Virginia's defense has not allowed a point in the second half of the last two games, but the Cavaliers have allowed an average of 346.3 yards per game.