Both Maryland and Georgia Tech come into Thursday night's game on a roll, and both have sufficient motivation to make this a must-win of sorts.
The Yellow Jackets come in at 4-3, having won three in a row after a 1-3 start. They are 2-2 in the ACC, and with Duke and North Carolina remaining on the schedule tonight is a swing game if coach Chan Gailey's team has aspirations of playing in a solid bowl game. This game could be the difference between eight or nine wins and not being bowl-eligible.
Maryland is in a similar position, having picked up the pieces and won five in a row after an 0-2 start. The Terps are hoping to win out and get to 10 wins for the third season in a row, which would be very possible with games at N.C. State and Wake Forest the toughest remaining tests for the Terps.
When Maryland has the ball...
Maryland owes much of its current five-game streak to the fact that the offense of coach Ralph Friedgen has caught fire and become very balanced over that stretch. The Terps are averaging 201 yards rushing and 246 passing during their winning streak, which has translated into 37 points per game.
The biggest difference has been the play of quarterback Scott McBrien, who is finally getting his feet under him and playing like the veteran he is. There has been a lot of talk about his inability to carry his success in practice over into games and McBrien has been pressing, trying to be perfect, something a little unusual for a guy with a 16-5 career record as a starter.
The coaches feel like he is coming off his best practice week of the season, though, and their message to him is to simply have fun out there and play with confidence.
Latrez Harrison has become McBrien's go-to receiver with 24 catches for an average of 15 yards, while Derrick Fenner has become a serious home run threat with six catches for an average of 36 yards. And watch out for Steve Suter, a kick returner with legitimate 4.3 speed who also has 12 catches.
In the backfield Maryland will come with the combination of Josh Allen and Bruce Perry. Allen leads the team in rushing with 430 yards and is a straight-line runner with good speed, while former ACC Player of the Year Perry is close to 100 percent after a high ankle sprain and gives the Terps someone who can make tacklers miss.
Friedgen's offense will face a Georgia Tech defense that is extremely talented and has overcome the adversity of losing players to ineligibility and illness. The biggest adjustment has been moving Gerris Wilkinson from strong-side linebacker to defensive end, where his 6-3, 230-pound frame makes him a little undersized. Wilkinson makes up for that, though, with tremendous speed and athletic ability on the edge and a terrific attitude.
Tech defensive coordinator John Tenuta has had a lot of success with aggressive schemes that turn the linebackers loose, and in Key Fox and Daryl Smith he has two of the best in the ACC. The two have already combined for 154 tackles this season, including 18 for lost yardage, and Tenuta will try to get them free but using the linemen to eat up space with double-team blocks. Also look for free safety James Butler to move up to the line of scrimmage to get involved in run defense.
Maryland likes to use its balanced attack to keep defenses off-balance, making them commit to one phase of the game and then going the other way. They are not good enough to rely solely on one or the other and must have that ability to keep Tech guessing. The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, will try to take away one phase or the other and make the Terps a one-dimensional team.
Keep an eye on the Tech linebackers running free, and watch out for McBrien. He seems to be on the brink of a big game and the coaches feel this could be the one.
When Georgia Tech has the ball...
The big story for the Yellow Jackets has been true freshman quarterback Reggie Ball, a legitimate combination quarterback with unbelievable athletic talent and a strong arm. Gailey has had to streamline the offense a bit when it comes to checking off and making protection calls in order to make decisions easier, but Ball is no longer a freshman after facing defenses like those at Auburn and Florida State.
Ball has seen some extremely athletic defenses and lived to tell about it. He is one of the more intriguing stories in the country not only because he is a true freshman, but because he is playing at a premier program and has his team competing in every game.
Nate Curry and Jonathan Smith are his top targets, combining for nearly 1,000 yards so far, while sophomore P.J. Daniels is the workhorse in the backfield. Daniels, a former walk-on, has carried the ball more than 140 times and is averaging 89 yards per game.
The overall attack is different from the multiple offense Friedgen ran during his tenure as the Georgia Tech offensive coordinator. Tech now wants to establish the run and develop the passing game off that. Ball becomes the X-factor because of his speed and quickness, and a veteran line has been a huge asset for him as he adjusts to the offense.
The Yellow Jackets will see a Maryland defense that is playing as well as any in the ACC right now. The Terps are giving up just nine points and 102 rushing yards per game over the last five thanks to an experienced group that includes nine players with at least 20 career starts.
Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney builds his scheme like so many others around the country, using confusion and speed to throw offenses out of whack. Against a true freshman like Ball, Blackney will try to get into his head with frequent blitzes and disguised coverages. Should Ball be able to overcome that pressure his athletic ability will create some big plays.
Watch Terps lineman Shawne Merriman, who has been the most pleasant surprise on that side of the ball for Maryland with his speed off the edge and relentless attitude already netting him six sacks. Linebackers Leon Joe and D'Qwell Jackson also merit some attention, and the strength of the defense just might be the secondary. All four players in the back end are returning starters and are actively involved in run support, especially safeties Dennard Wilson and Madieu Williams.
Kirk Herbstreit is an analyst for ESPN College GameDay and a regular contributor to ESPN.com during the college football season.