COLLEGE PARK - For 15 minutes yesterday, Scott McBrien was nowhere to be found.
Practice had started and players were done stretching, but Maryland's senior quarterback was noticeably absent.
In his place, freshman Joel Statham was rifling passes to the Terps' starting wide receivers, and, periodically, offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe was offering encouragement while fiddling with the young quarterback's mechanics.
Finally, McBrien appeared, jogging slowly out from behind the fence that surrounds the practice field. Receiver Steve Suter smiled and shouted his name, and McBrien returned the greeting with a nod.
As the team lined up for its next drill, however, McBrien stayed in the background. Someone tossed him a ball and, slowly and gingerly, he began to play catch. For the moment, that was the best he could offer.
That was hardly the scene Maryland was hoping for yesterday, but with McBrien still recovering from the concussion he suffered in the 7-3 loss to Georgia Tech, it's the situation the Terps are faced with this week as they try to prepare for North Carolina.
"It's kind of a day-to-day-type thing," said Terps coach Ralph Friedgen.
Friedgen said he still expects McBrien to play Saturday, but it's clear his return is no sure thing. He didn't take any snaps yesterday, and was not available to the media after practice.
"We'd like to get him some work [today], but that's going to be [Friedgen's] decision," Taaffe said.
"It's that late in the season where he can probably go if he gets some good work Thursday. He just needs some timing, and to see that [North Carolina's] coverages are a little bit different than what we saw last week."
Until McBrien's status becomes more clear - he has a doctor's appointment today - Taaffe and Friedgen will focus on getting Statham ready to face the Tar Heels (1-7, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who statistically have one of the worst defenses in the country.
North Carolina is giving up 36.9 points per game, and has held just one opponent (East Carolina) to fewer than 33.
The game might be arriving at the perfect time for Maryland, which is struggling as much as it ever has in three seasons under Friedgen.
Statham replaced McBrien in the second quarter against the Yellow Jackets and completed 10 of 22 passes for 110 yards, but he also had a costly fumble in the third quarter that led to Georgia Tech's only touchdown.
It was an up-and-down performance, but not bad for someone who had hardly taken a snap in practice all week. Statham didn't find out he would be the backup until Wednesday morning, when Friedgen suspended senior Orlando Evans for violating team rules.
Friedgen said Monday that Statham is the backup.
"Joel showed a lot of poise in that game," Friedgen said. "He came in and got hit right in the mouth about 20 times, but I think he only had three mental errors in 48 plays. ... At practice [Monday], he seemed to have a different air of confidence about him. Maybe he grew up Thursday night. We'll have to see."
"I think I am more confident right now," Statham said. "I'm starting to get used to the speed of the game. I can see things a little bit better now that I know what I'm supposed to do against different coverages."
Statham, however, said he still expects McBrien to be ready to play.
"I think he's trying to take it easy this week," Statham said. "I'm pretty sure he'll be back."
Regardless of which quarterback plays, it's a good bet that he wouldn't have to produce a tremendous number of points to win. Maryland is now ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 13.6 points per game.
While Tar Heels quarterback Darian Durant presents a challenge with his ability to both throw and run the ball, the Terps have been successful shutting down quarterbacks all season. Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball was just 12-for-28 for 98 yards.
Freidgen admitted that Maryland did some soul-searching over the weekend after the loss, which dropped the Terps to sixth place in the league. Friedgen said he had a meeting with all the seniors on the team, and that he also challenged some of them individually to not let the season slip away.
"I told them they still have control of their future the next four games," he said. "This is maybe one of the tougher times within my stint here at Maryland, and we have probably the toughest part of our schedule coming up. We need to bind together as a team. ... I really think it has to come from our seniors if it's going to get done."
Next for Terps
Matchup:North Carolina (1-7, 0-4) vs. Maryland (5-3, 2-2)
Site:Byrd Stadium, College Park
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line:Off the board