In end, McBrien gets an `A' in Friedgen's tough course

Work leads to mastery of intricate Terps offense

College Football

December 28, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For a young quarterback at Maryland, learning Ralph Friedgen's complex offense is not unlike trying to learn a second language. It starts in a classroom, requires hours of daily study and then takes practice and more practice.

And just when the quarterback feels like he's gained a little confidence, along comes the two-minute, no-huddle attack. He calls the plays, makes all the decisions, keeps one eye on the clock and the other on the defense.

It's a pressure-packed, frantic final exam for Terps signal callers. When that day came for the first time three seasons ago for Scott McBrien, it was the equivalent of asking him to read Crime and Punishment in the original Russian.

"He really didn't know what plays to call," said Latrez Harrison, a former quarterback at Maryland who by then had moved to receiver. "He'd look over at me, and I'd give him a play, then he'd call it, and we'd run it. He's come a long way since then."

These days, McBrien can bark out plays and audibles as if he was born speaking the language. The skinny, wide-eyed walk-on of three years ago has become a confident quarterback with 20 wins under his belt, and if he can lead his team to a victory over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl on Thursday, it will be Maryland's third straight season with 10 or more victories.

Though McBrien got off to a slow start this year for the second straight season, no one can argue with the finish.

In Maryland's final four games, he threw for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns, and was picked off only once. The Terps' offense, in turn, has been outstanding, averaging 505 yards and 38 points in the four wins.

"He's been playing exceptional for the past month," said offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. "Maybe in the beginning of the season, he was carrying a little too much on his shoulders, feeling like he had to make it happen himself, but since the North Carolina game, he's played outstanding."

It's no secret that McBrien carries an extra emotional burden this week in preparing to face the Mountaineers. He did, after all, begin his college career at West Virginia, and showed promise during his two seasons in Morgantown.

But when Rich Rodriguez took over as West Virginia's coach in 2000, McBrien tumbled down the depth chart, then quit the team one day after spring practice, telling his family he'd rather give up football than play for the Mountaineers.

McBrien has never really felt comfortable talking about his decision to leave West Virginia, and isn't speaking with the media this week.

Rodriguez, who has exchanged handshakes with McBrien, but little else since, isn't especially eager to discuss the issue, either.

"I don't mind if people bring it up, because it is a story," Rodriguez said. "But after about two or three days, it's the same story again and again."

West Virginia quarterback Rasheed Marshall said there are no hard feelings between the Mountaineers and McBrien, and that surprise -- not betrayal -- was the emotion most of the team felt when McBrien quit the team without telling anyone.

"It was good to see him [Friday] and get the chance to talk with him," Marshall said. "I hadn't talked to him much since. ... I was happy to see him doing well. It was just a business move he had to make."

If it truly was a business move, it's fair to call it a long-term investment with low risk and high reward for Maryland.

It took some time for Friedgen and Taaffe to learn how to tap into McBrien's psyche and figure out the best way to coach him. Shaun Hill, Maryland's quarterback in 2001, was a confident, trash-talking, outgoing personality who needed to be reeled in sometimes with a little tough love. McBrien is the opposite.

"[Yelling] is not the way to handle him," Taaffe said. "He's very introverted. He's very competitive, but he doesn't show it outwardly. He has a lot of pride. Some people respond well to criticism, but Scott's not one of those guys. He's someone you talk to and explain things to. He needs encouragement."

With the right encouragement, and the right opportunity, Taaffe thinks West Virginia might not be McBrien's last game.

"I think he can play [in the NFL]," Taaffe said. "He's not going to wow them physically, and in the NFL, it's almost like they're looking for cookie-cutter guys and he's not that.

"But he's got a very strong release and good arm. We have a lot of NFL-type things in our passing, as far as reads, and I think that will help him. ... I think he has a shot. It just depends on what he wants to do with it."

Gator Bowl

Matchup: No. 23 Maryland (9-3) vs. No. 20 West Virginia (8-4)

Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

When: Thursday, 12:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 3 1/2

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