Milanovich, UM unravel together

September 29, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

ATLANTA -- So, two days after Maryland coach Mark Duffner benched an undefeated starting quarterback, the Terps took a pounding from Georgia Tech last night at Grant Field. Not Duffner's finest moment. Let's just say the echoes of Vince Lombardi weren't awakened.

And who said the quarterback controversy at Maryland was dead?

Not that the Terps' 31-3 loss hinged entirely on the change at quarterback from Brian Cummings to Scott Milanovich. That wasn't the case at all. It takes a lot more than one player to get squashed by a team that had lost 13 straight games to Division I-A opponents. Here are the main reasons it happened:

* After forcing 16 turnovers in their first four games, the Terps forced only one last night -- a meaningless interception that lTC came after the Terps were already down by 13 points.

* After averaging 178 rushing yards in their first four games, the Terps rushed for only 16 yards (not counting the losses from Milanovich's sacks), enabling Tech to pressure Milanovich with a constant blitz.

* The Terps' defense, ranked 27th in the nation going into the game, was picked apart. Tech quarterback Donnie Davis looked like Joe Montana in the first half. And someone named C. J. Williams rushed for 166 yards.

* Playing their fifth game in 27 days (against a team that hadn't played in 12 days), the Terps looked anything but fresh.

Still, it is impossible to get around the fact that Duffner benched Cummings, who was only 4-0 as the starting quarterback, and Milanovich proceeded to generate only one field goal in 11 possessions in what turned into a disastrous night.

Oops.

What does Duffner do now? Stick with Milanovich, of course. Not that he should. But the first rule of coaching is that you never, ever admit you made a mistake.

Still, it is clear that Duffner made a mistake in junking the blueprint that led the Terps to their best start in 17 years.

He took a clever, varied offense and replaced it with a predictable one. And he got what he deserved for bypassing the first Terps quarterback in years to show signs of being a winner.

Milanovich wasn't terrible, understand. He wasn't sharp, but he wasn't that rusty, either. He threw some perfect balls and some poor ones. He fumbled one snap from center. He moved the team, but seemed to get shakier as the night progressed. It didn't help that he had no rushing game, that blitzers were in his face all night.

But without the more mobile Cummings in charge, the Terps were far more predictable with the ball. They couldn't run the misdirection and counter plays that were so successful in their four wins; Milanovich just isn't nimble enough to fool a defense on such plays.

The Terps tried a few basic, straight-ahead runs early last night and then abandoned their running game entirely when the plays didn't work. From then on, they were the most predictable team in the world: pass, pass, pass. They threw or attempted to throw on 57 of 75 plays. Balance, what balance?

Sure, it is entirely possible that Tech would have harried the less experienced Cummings in the same fashion. But there is no doubt that the Tech defenders had a lot less to worry about with Milanovich out there. He wasn't going to hurt them running option plays, as Cummings could.

Tech knew the pass was coming and concentrated on pressuring Milanovich, sending as many as seven rushers at him on many plays. They knew they could do it and get away with it because the Terps' misdirection plays, designed to take advantage of such blitzes, were not going to be called.

Not that it made sense for Duffner to bench Milanovich and try Cummings as the game progressed and the Terps went nowhere. They were so far behind that they needed Milanovich's big asset, his passing arm. It was too late to start mixing in runs and counter plays.

That should have been done at the beginning of the game.

With Cummings running the offense.

Duffner said on Wednesday that Cummings wasn't going to disappear now that he has lost his job. "It's not like Scott's been on Mars and Brian is going to go there," the coach said. Let's hope he's as faithful to that word as he was in promising Milanovich the chance to play upon returning.

At the very least, Cummings and Milanovich should alternate quarters or series or something, giving both a chance to play and throw their very different talents at defenses. That's an unusual gambit that's worth a try this time.

In any case, it was abundantly clear last night that Duffner shouldn't just abandon the quarterback and the offense that led the Terps to their 4-0 start. Let's see if Duffner is able to admit it.

Next for Maryland

Opponent: Wake Forest

Site: Groves Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.

When: Oct. 7, 6:30 p.m.

Record: 1-3 overall, 0-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference

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