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Terps' future banks on cresting Rivers

November 20, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - It used to be that Ol' Man River was a subject of conversation.

Not lately. As a matter of fact, if you stand outside the University of Maryland film room these days, you'd be more likely to hear someone saying, "Oh man, Rivers!"

This week is all about North Carolina State quarterback Philip Rivers, and with so much on the line, he has conjured much concern and attention from the Terrapins.

"Philip Rivers is the best quarterback in the country," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "(Defensive coordinator Gary) Blackney told me he's the best quarterback he ever faced.

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"I know it's his last game at Carter-Finley Stadium. I hope it's not a game I'll have to remember. I'll wish him luck on Sundays though, because he has a long career ahead of him."

That's big praise from a coach who has dealt with offenses for most of his career.

Rivers, a senior and a Heisman Trophy candidate, is one huge headache for the Terps, not only because of what he can do, but because one slip-up by Maryland could be the difference between finishing second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and going to a major New Year's Day bowl or a postseason game one level down.

"Rivers is the whole package. He doesn't have perfect form, but he gets perfect results," Friedgen said. "He has a short release and a strong arm. He runs that team like another coach on the field. He's mobile enough to get out of trouble and he's difficult to defend against."

And North Carolina State uses Rivers' strengths to flow all over defenses.

"Rivers is the best quarterback I've seen or played against," defensive lineman Kevin Eli said. "He is very tough because he throws quick passes and is very difficult to rush. We have to get pressure on him with the front four. The front four has to generate pressure to cause him to make mistakes."

N.C. State (7-4, 4-3) has four losses in 11 games, but it hasn't been because of Rivers' inability to get points on the scoreboard. The Wolfpack have been outscored 161-121 in the four losses, including overtime defeats to nationally ranked Ohio State and Florida State.

Rivers has hit on 72 percent of his passes (295-for-408) for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns while throwing only six interceptions. He has thrown for 12,733 yards and 90 touchdowns in his four-year career covering 47 games.

He poses interesting problems for the Maryland defense. The Wolfpack use a receiver-laden set to spread defenses thin, much like the St. Louis Rams.

"This will be assignment football," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "He has a great release and reads defenses well. He's tall where he can look over the top of the defense. It's a great attribute. He is able to get the ball into tight places. I don't want to hurt him, but he will see a lot of me."

But Rivers also puts additional pressure on the Terps' offense.

"Rivers is the right quarterback and he has a lot of receivers as weapons," offensive lineman Lamar Bryant said. "The best way we can control their offense is by keeping it on the sidelines with long, time-consuming drives. We have to make sure the offense scores a lot of points. If we get caught behind in a shootout, we'd lose."

Maryland showed some ability to grind the clock last week in its 27-17 win over Virginia.

Tailback Josh Allen rushed for 257 yards - the third-highest total in Maryland history - and two touchdowns. And the news improved with the possibility of Bruce Perry returning this weekend from an ankle sprain.

And through it all, Maryland is the only ACC team that Rivers has been unable to defeat.

The Terps would like to keep Rivers dammed up one last time.

"This is Philip Rivers' last chance to get back at us," Jackson said. "We just want to put the last nail into the coffin."

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