For now, Milanovich will have to wait

September 24, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- Scott Milanovich should be Maryland's starting quarterback. But not now. Not yet.

How in the world do you bench Brian Cummings? Maryland is 4-0 for the first time since 1978. And Cummings came up huge last night, with Milanovich all but staring over his shoulder.

Milanovich's gambling suspension is over, but the Terps' winning streak is not. Until Cummings falters, Duffner must stay the course. Only a fool would tinker with such success.

Success, as in last night's 41-28 victory over Duke before 41,013 at Byrd Stadium. Success, as in Cummings completing 19 of 27 passes for 299 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Heck, the kid might have passed for four touchdowns, if he hadn't underthrown two completions to Jermaine Lewis inside the 5-yard line. Go ahead, nit pick if you'd like. But no one can argue with 4-0.

Now comes the sticky part. A poor game by Cummings last night, and this would have been a no-brainer. Instead, Duffner is left with a difficult, multi-layered decision, one that could sour this dizzying season.

Naturally, Duffner avoided the issue in the afterglow of last night's victory, but he did call it Cummings' "best night," and he did say, "His poise out there tonight, his confidence making plays, was really, really special."

So, how would Cummings feel if Milanovich starts Thursday night against Georgia Tech? "I'm in the glory of my life, but I won't be that disappointed," he said. "We're going to keep rolling."

Most quarterback controversies result from losing, but this one exists only because Maryland is winning. Milanovich has seven games remaining in a spectacular college career. Few would dispute he's the better quarterback.

Also, let's not forget what Duffner told Milanovich in July to keep him from entering the NFL supplemental draft. No one knows exactly what Duffner said, but suffice it to say Milanovich didn't stick around just to punt.

Most likely, he returned with an assurance that he'd start at Georgia Tech. But that was then, this is now. How was Duffner to know Maryland would get off to this astonishing start?

Milanovich will just have to suck it up. And if he doesn't like it, he shouldn't have gotten himself in this mess to begin with.

Why not play both quarterbacks? Because it didn't work last season. Duffner benched Milanovich at West Virginia, rotated him with Kevin Foley for two games, then went back to Milanovich.

"Definitely weird," Milanovich said then.

Duffner is not stupid -- he knows that the Foley-Milanovich rotation created too much uncertainty, too much disruption. But he also is a man of his word, and like any coach, a pragmatist.

Duffner knows the outspoken Milanovich will scream if Cummings plays all season. What's more, he knows that the best possible Maryland team is one with Milanovich.

But try making that case after last night. The Terps ran up 544 yards in total offense -- their highest total in two years -- against a team that last season defeated them 49-16.

Cummings has as many wins in three weeks as Milanovich had the previous two years. And yet, this isn't nearly that simple. Indeed, when you examine the reasons Maryland is undefeated, Cummings ranks near the bottom.

This team is winning with its defense, with its running game, with its turnover margin. The play-calling has kept opponents off balance. Until last night, Cummings' biggest attribute was that he hadn't screwed up.

Milanovich is the most prolific passer in school history, the all-time leader in completions, touchdowns and completion percentage. He's a 6-foot-3, 227-pound senior, a presence on the field. Cummings, 5-11 and 191, is a sophomore.

As much grief as Milanovich has caused Maryland, he deserves the chance to play with a team that could go 9-0 entering its final two games, a team that could be headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1990.

He should be rewarded, for enduring two seasons in which the Terps couldn't stop anyone, for setting a dozen school passing records, for coming back. But Duffner can't make the switch now. If all goes well, he'll never make it at all, and the only one hurt will be Milanovich.

It's a bizarre situation, and more than a little uncomfortable. Duffner can't turn his back on Cummings or Milanovich.

All he can do is keep pushing forward, and hold off his decision until the time is right.

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