McBrien hoping to take next step

Senior quarterback vows to play as well vs. Tech as he practices for Terps

October 23, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It might seem odd, but Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and senior quarterback Scott McBrien don't talk much during the week.

It's not that they dislike each other -- quite the opposite, in fact -- it's that McBrien is one of the team's true introverts. He prefers to go about his business, listening plenty but saying little. So Friedgen admits he was a bit surprised this week when McBrien walked past him at the end of practice and mumbled two words he hoped would put his coach at ease.

"This week," McBrien said.

"This week, what?" Friedgen asked.

"This week I take it from the practice field to the game," McBrien said.

It was a small gesture, but an important one for Maryland (5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) heading into tonight's game against Georgia Tech (4-3, 2-2) in Atlanta.

So far this season, one of the Terps' biggest mysteries has been the difference between McBrien's play in practice and his performance in games. In practice, he looks like an All-American, threading passes through tight spots and hitting his receivers in stride. In games, however, he has been merely solid and rarely superb.

"He's played well in games, but he's just so much better [in practice]," Friedgen said. "We go against each other first team against first team, and our defense is a pretty good defense. Maybe it's just me. Maybe my expectations are too high."

That hasn't been a concern for Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, who entered the season with low expectations for his quarterback, Reggie Ball.

A freshman, Ball has been one of the ACC's biggest surprises. He won the starting job just four weeks after stepping foot on campus and has dazzled ever since, leading the Yellow Jackets to wins over Auburn, Vanderbilt, N.C. State and Wake Forest.

Ball rushed for 103 yards against Vanderbilt and then showed off his arm the next week against N.C. State, throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns.

"You really don't have very high expectations for true freshmen, so any time they go and play at the level that this guy has played, it has to be a surprise to most people," Gailey said.

Gailey wasn't thrilled about handing over his team to a player barely out of high school, but because the Yellow Jackets are young at every position this year, he felt he had little choice.

"If I had my choice, you'd redshirt every freshman," Gailey said. "They could get used to being away from momma and get used to college life. And then they could try to go play in a gigantic game on national TV. That's not the way it is, so you deal with what you've got."

Even if tonight's game wasn't on national television, it would have added importance. Both teams, to some degree, are still trying to prove they are for real. Friedgen said he feels Maryland, winner of five straight, is still searching for that signature game to ignite its season. Gailey, meanwhile, is busy trying to figure out a way to focus the Yellow Jackets, winners of three straight, every game.

"We have such a young team, an inexperienced team," Gailey said. "I have to tell them what's at stake. They don't understand the importance of each and every game yet."

Though the spotlight has been on the team's two quarterbacks so far, it's likely the game will be decided on the ground. Both defenses have stuffed the run this season, and both teams feature big-time running backs. For Georgia Tech, sophomore P.J. Daniels is second in the league in yards per game (89.0) and is coming off a 175-yard effort against Wake Forest, the top performance by a running back in the ACC this year.

"The thing about P.J. is that he doesn't have great speed, he doesn't have great quickness, and he's not a gigantic guy," Gailey said. "He's just a tough, hard-nosed runner. Wes Durham, our announcer, calls him `The Little Engine' because he just keeps coming and keeps coming at you."

People used to say those things about Terps running back Bruce Perry, but not much the past two years because Perry has been slowed by injuries. He got some needed rest during the bye week for his sprained ankle and will start for just the second time this year. Perry, the 2001 Offensive Player of the Year in the ACC, is third on the team in rushing with 218 yards.

"I've seen a real determined attitude by him [lately]," Friedgen said of Perry. "He realizes where he's at right now, and he's worked extremely hard in practice. I'm just kind of hoping everything works out and he can finish his career the way he really can play."

Terps tonight

Matchup: Maryland (5-2, 2-1) vs. Georgia Tech (4-3, 2-2)

Site: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta

Time: 7:45

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 2 1/2

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