North Carolina closes out their 2012 football schedule in Chapel Hill against the depleted Maryland Terrapins Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium. Although they’re bowl ineligible and thus won’t play another game, the Tar Heels (7-4, 4-3 ACC) can still take some momentum into next season as they look to finish above .500 in conference play in Larry Fedora’s first season at the helm.
Maryland (4-7, 2-5 ACC) has had a terrible season thanks to up-and-down play from a team featuring a ton of underclassman and a string of injuries at quarterback. Maryland suffered season-ending injuries to four separate quarterbacks this season and have been forced to start a converted linebacker for the past three games.
The injuries started in August when starter C.J. Brown suffered a torn ACL. He was replaced by Perry Hills, who went 4-3 in his first seven starts before suffering a torn ACL of his own. Third-stringer Devin Burns replaced Hills, but he didn’t last long and is done with the season with a foot injury. Finally, the “football Gods” spit in Maryland’s face once again when freshman Caleb Rowe – a freshman who was previously scheduled to redshirt – tore his ACL as the last remaining scholarship quarterback on the roster.
Now, Maryland is forced to start converted linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback. The experiment has gone as badly as expected, but you can’t blame Maryland in this situation and you certainly can’t place any blame on Petty.
Maryland has lost five straight, including being outscored a combined 119-37 in Petty’s three starts against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. Petty has completed 23 of his 49 passes for 292 yards with a 5:1 TD to INT ratio.
With Petty running the offense, Maryland has gone almost exclusively to the run game, which hasn’t necessarily been successful all season. Maryland’s leading rusher is Wes Brown with 382 yards on 90 carries.
Petty has thrown the ball less than 20 times in all three starts and the Terrapins largest yardage total was against Georgia Tech where they had 259 total yards. They only managed 180 and 170 yards against Clemson and Florida State, respectively.
If Maryland hopes to have any kind of success, they need a spectacular game from freshman sensation Stefon Diggs. Maryland does a good job of getting Diggs the ball in space and isn’t afraid to use him on special teams as well as offense. Diggs has 46 receptions, 766 receiving yards and 6 receiving TD’s on the season. He has also returned 22 punts for 221 yards (10.0 average) and 21 kickoffs for 567 yards (27.0 average) and 1 touchdown.
They’ll need at least one special teams/defensive touchdown to stay within 10 of North Carolina, but honestly, it still isn’t likely to be enough. Maryland is too down and North Carolina’s offense is too explosive.
If UNC loses to this Maryland team, you have every right to question the direction of the program under Fedora. A win, however, would give the Tar Heels seven victories in the final nine contests and make North Carolina a likely favorite in the ACC Coastal next season. Especially if that Giovani Bernard guy returns.