Milanovich is happy to put Byrd Stadium behind him

November 12, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

COLLEGE PARK -- As the final gun of his final game at Byrd Stadium sounded yesterday, Scott Milanovich jogged onto the field and shook hands with several Virginia players, then turned and sprinted for the locker room.

He was the first Maryland player to leave the field after Virginia's 21-18 win, and if his exit wasn't intentionally rushed, it certainly was symbolic. Who could blame Milanovich for wanting this year to end as soon as possible?

Talk about a slump. Since the end of last season, he has a) tested the NFL's interest in him and found it relatively tepid, b) been suspended for four games for gambling on college sports, c) lost his starting job after getting yanked against Wake Forest, and d) given one of the worst performances of his college career in his last home game.

For a quarterback who set 12 school passing records through last season and was considered among the country's best before this season, this year has been a certifiable disaster. His confidence has ebbed. His NFL stock has dropped.

You would sprint for the locker room, too, if you were wearing his cleats.

He could have blown away many of the clouds hanging over him with a strong game yesterday; a victory would have guaranteed Maryland a mid-level bowl berth and boosted Milanovich's reputation. Instead, Milanovich threw four interceptions in a game for the first time at Maryland and passed for less yardage than he has in any game he has started and finished.

His offense drove just 5 yards and 16 yards for touchdowns after a blocked punt and botched kickoff return. Otherwise, the offense just muddled around the middle of the field, exhibiting little consistency.

Not that Milanovich deserved all the blame. His receivers dropped several passes. And Dan Marino would have had trouble moving the team consistently with Terps coach Mark Duffner jumping back and forth between the run-and-shoot and traditional I formation.

Maybe the coach will pick an offense soon, seeing as the season ends next week.

Milanovich admitted after the game that the offense was "maybe a little predictable" with the way it passed out of the run-and-shoot and ran out of the I. But he didn't try to deflect the blame, even when reporters tried to give him an out.

"Were you still feeling any rustiness from having sat out all of September?" someone asked.

"No, I felt good," he said, shaking his head. "I had really good practices this week and last week, too. It's a situation where we got beat by a better team and I made a few mistakes."

The most damaging occurred in the third quarter, with the score tied 11-11. After a freak play on the second-half kickoff -- the ball caromed off a Virginia player and Maryland recovered -- the Terps drove to a first down at the Virginia 26. On third-and-seven, Milanovich scrambled and lobbed a pass toward the back of the end zone. Virginia's Paul London pulled it down, center-fielder-style.

"I thought I was throwing it to where either Mancel [Johnson] would get it or no one would," Milanovich said. "Obviously, it didn't work out."

Virginia took the ball, drove 80 yards for a touchdown, and never trailed again.

"I'm going to look back at this game as one we had a chance to win," Milanovich said.

And how will he look back on his career, which will end with this week's game against Florida State (and maybe a minor bowl game such as the Independence or Liberty)? That's easy. As brilliant as his sophomore and junior years were, his senior year was equally forgettable.

Rarely in the four starts and two relief appearances in 1995 has he resembled the self-confident quarterback who had passed for 47 touchdowns and 6,125 yards coming into this season. He just seems less in control, less sure of himself. And he has rarely even attempted downfield passes, much less completed them.

It's not as though his long-standing goal of making the NFL is dead, of course. He won't be a high draft pick now, but a good showing in one of those scouting combines would push his stock back up.

He still has the size and strong arm the pros want. The guess here is he'll make some team as a third-teamer. After that, who knows?

In any case, this season can't end soon enough for him, as he all but admitted in an interview last week. Does he regret coming back? Maybe, but it's not as though he had alternatives. The pros weren't dying for him.

No, he did the right thing in coming back. It just didn't work out. And any sound you might hear is the sound of him counting down the days until his college career is over.

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