Hurting Maryland opens season at Northern Illinois

Updated: August 27, 2003, 5:19 PM ET

DEKALB, Ill. -- Ralph Friedgen was taking no chances.

With Florida State looming next week, the Maryland coach gathered his team together and popped in a Northern Illinois game tape from last year -- a near-upset of Wisconsin.

He hopes it left a lasting impression on the No. 15 Terrapins, who open their season on Thursday night in Dekalb, Ill.

"The first nine series, Wisconsin was doing that mamba offense -- one-two-three punt," Friedgen said. "If that doesn't get their attention, then we're in trouble."

As if Maryland didn't have enough worries already.

The banged-up Terrapins opens their season without starting running back Bruce Perry, kick returner Steve Suter, offensive guard Lamar Bryant and free safety Marcus Wimbush. The Terrapins are also missing three key reserves, and quarterback Scott McBrien has been hampered with a strained groin for the last week.

Josh Allen will start in place of the injured Perry, the 2001 ACC offensive player of the year who is out with a sprained ankle.

Allen finished second on the team with 405 yards rushing as a freshman filling in for Perry. He also averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns, earning the trust of Friedgen.

"He's a good back and he's a good kid. The best thing about him is we've got him for two more years after this year," Friedgen said. "I have a lot of faith in him."

Allen will have plenty of help.

McBrien, who threw for 14 TDs and rushed for seven more, is a two-year starter. The Maryland defense returns nine starters, including the entire secondary, to a unit that was seventh in the nation in points allowed last year.

Their biggest task will be stopping Michael Turner.

Turner is the nation's leading returning rusher with 1,915 yards last year -- second only to Penn State's Larry Johnson.

The 6-foot, 228-pound senior averaged 159.6 yards a game, ran for 19 touchdowns and topped the 200-yard mark five times. He also came through against big-name opponents, running for 161 yards and two scores in a 24-21 loss to Wisconsin.

Northern Illinois' schedule is loaded with opponents from major conferences. The Huskies also play Alabama and Iowa State.

For Turner and his teammates, it's invaluable exposure.

"This is a great time to showcase our talent. Playing against those BCS schools, they consider themselves to be better just because of their names," Turner said. "We want to show that we are good too. Everyone can't go to the Alabama's and Maryland's. Some of us go to smaller schools. It's going to be a great opportunity."

But only if the Huskies win.

The last time Northern Illinois hosted a ranked team to start the season was in 1997 against Kansas State. The results weren't pretty. The Huskies lost 47-7 on their way to an 0-11 season.

Bigger things are expected of Northern Illinois this time around. The Huskies are the preseason favorites to win the Mid-American Conference after tying for the West title last year.

Coach Joe Novak said Maryland is difficult to prepare for because the Terrapins attack is so diverse. Maryland averaged 32 points a game last year, second best in the ACC.

"Offensively they do everything. Option, throw it, one back, two back, run over you, run around you," coach Joe Novak said. "That's why I'd rather play them the first game because as the year goes on, they keep adding things to their offense."

Friedgen is 21-5 since arriving at Maryland, including a 30-3 rout of Tennessee in last year's Peach Bowl.

The Terrapins were close to earning a share of the ACC title last season, and a possible BCS appearance, but blew the opportunity with a 48-13 loss to Virginia. That game gave Florida State its 10th ACC title in 11 years.

Florida State beat Maryland easily last year in the conference opener, and Friedgen knows his players are eager to avenge that loss and the disappointing end to their regular season.

First things first, though.

"They better not be thinking too far ahead," Friedgen said. "I really haven't even mentioned that game. We're just worried about this one right now."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index