Northern Illinois offensive line
vs. Maryland's defensive line
Defensive ends Kevin Eli and Shawne Merriman combined for 14 sacks last season, and the Terps' defensive line was expected to be imposing this season. Today, though, Maryland's front four won't be at full strength. Eli (hamstring) could play, but it's uncertain for how long. Henry Scott will start in his place. At defensive tackle, starter Justin Duffie (recovering from surgery) and Robert Armstrong (back) could have stamina issues as well. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Northern Illinois has an experienced offensive line -- four starters return -- which many in DeKalb, Ill., believe is the best in school history. The Northern Illinois' two-deep offensive line combines for 87 career Division I starts.
How Important Are the Quarterbacks?
Both teams likely will rely on the run to some extent tonight. But Maryland starter Joel Statham needs to avoid the mistakes that plagued him in the spring game. He played composed for most of the summer, clearly proving himself as the starter, but how he will perform before 51,000 fans remains uncertain. Northern Illinois quarterback Josh Haldi has turned over the ball only 17 times (two fumbles, 15 interceptions) in 27 games. The 6-foot-2 senior has a stress fracture in his foot that could limit his effectiveness tonight.
If Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen is worried about anything, this is it. He knows his young team will commit mental mistakes on occasion, and he has tried to be somewhat understanding. But he doesn't want those mistakes to come late in the game. Friedgen said he has installed a new drill in practice called "perfect plays," in which the team moves the length of the field 10 yards at a time and runs at the end of each drive to build mental toughness.
The Kicking Advantage
The Terps have a decided advantage in the kicking game because of senior Nick Novak, who needs just three points to become the leading scorer in ACC history. Novak appears especially confident this season and could prove to be the best kicker in the nation. Northern Illinois Coach Joe Novak (no relation) has spoken to his new kicker, freshman Chris Nendick, about not feeling too much pressure. Every kicker will miss a kick now and again, the coach told him, but it's how you rebound from the misses that matter most.