When QB decision comes to pass, Duffner must give Milanovich ball

September 25, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

COLLEGE PARK -- All right, now it's Scott Milanovich's turn. Start him next week against Clemson, and bring Kevin Foley off the bench.

Maryland is 2-0 shuffling quarterbacks, and coach Mark Duffner isn't about to tinker with success. But he needs to proceed with caution, especially with his team on the verge of a breakthrough.

Foley started in yesterday's 31-7 victory over Wake Forest, but he didn't outplay Milanovich. Clearly, Duffner has snapped Milanovich to attention. Now, he should tell him, "At ease."

A football coach is nothing if not a master manipulator, and his quarterback decisions loom even more important when the future of his program is at stake.

Maryland, so devastated by its season-opening loss at Duke, can improve to 3-2 with a victory at Clemson on Saturday. It won't happen without a major contribution from Milanovich.

Let's not forget that he set Maryland records and led the ACC in several passing categories last season. And let's not forget that Foley has yet to face a dominant college defense.

Milanovich is a junior, Foley a sophomore.

Milanovich has the most to lose.

"This week was a little tough for me," he said yesterday. "Everyone was kind of jumping on the bandwagon. I kind of felt like maybe I was being written off.

"But my teammates were good, and my family backed me a lot. The thing everyone told me was, don't let it break your confidence."

He claims it didn't, says, "I'm through it," but who's to know for sure? What he needs now is a vote of confidence, the assurance from Duffner that Maryland can't win without him.

Yesterday amounted to a draw, so Duffner withheld judgment. Foley completed 12 of 18 passes, Milanovich 10 of 12. Foley threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns, Milanovich for 121 and one.

If Foley's numbers look slightly better, it's because he played seven series to Milanovich's five, and because he had Jermaine Lewis at wide receiver in the first quarter.

Lewis caught both of Foley's touchdown passes, but he suffered a dislocated shoulder in the second period, and played only one series with Milanovich.

Confused yet?

When one quarterback plays, the other signals in plays from the sidelines. When one quarterbacktalks on the headset to coaches, the other stands off to the side, chatting with teammates.

"It's definitely weird," Milanovich said. "When me and Kevin were standing on the sidelines, we were like, 'You get two, I get one.' It's not like anything I've been a part of."

Milanovich was the backup to John Kaleo in 1992, and Foley was Milanovich's backup last year. Kaleo, of all people, warmed up Milanovich on the sidelines yesterday, playing catch in street clothes.

Which quarterback would Kaleo choose? He took the diplomatic approach, saying, "It's a tough call." Yet, he couldn't help but add, "They should pick one."

That, ultimately, is why Duffner must come back to Milanovich, the more experienced of the two, and the more polished.

It's difficult for an offense to establish a rhythm with two quarterbacks. Foley conceded that the offense was "sporadic" yesterday, producing only one touchdown drive after the first quarter.

"If you go with one quarterback, the one who is in there can get into a better flow," Milanovich said.

"They [the coaches] like the fact that two different quarterbacks can give us a spark now and then. They seem to think it gives the defense a tougher challenge.

"The bottom line is, they feel that we're both good players. They feel we both deserve to play. They don't feel like they can keep one of us on the bench.

"It was hard for Kevin to take last year. It's hard for me to take now. When you play sports long enough, you have some controversy. You've just got to keep your mouth shut and do your job."

Alas, it's not that simple.

Milanovich was intercepted in the end zone yesterday, and Foley also was intercepted throwing into coverage. Why shouldn't they press? Every series amounts to a tryout.

This can go on only so long, and Duffner knows it. Nothing distracts a team like a quarterback controversy. Milanovich and Foley are good friends -- they live in the same suite -- and still the situation is uneasy.

The easy solution for Duffner is to maintain the status quo until someone gets hot. But he was bold enough to try Foley, bold dTC enough to shift Jamie Bragg to defense. Now, he should be bold enough -- and savvy enough -- to weave his way back to Milanovich.

One more week of shuffling, then make the move. The only way Foley deserves the job is if he's clearly superior, and that's not the case.

Milanovich had to fight the rain at Duke and West Virginia -- and in the latter game, he fumbled two snaps with Erik Greenstein making his first college start at center.

Yet, for all that, Maryland is exactly where it should be, considering that Duke is now 4-0 after beating Georgia Tech. What we're seeing, for the first time under Duffner, is progress.

Duffner needs more of it.

9- And to get it, he needs Scott Milanovich.

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