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Playing the shell game - Maryland QBs

October 05, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - David Copperfield would be proud.

Even the King of Illusions might have to step back and jealously applaud the sleight of hand University of Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden has been performing.

But, instead of Vegas showgirls, Vanderlinden is using two quarterbacks - junior Ken Mastrole and freshman Randall Jones - to amaze and mystify.

Forget the magic wand. Maryland's second-year coach has been waving around a few well-placed words.

And no curtain is being used to hide this trick. It's all done in broad daylight in front of a media corps that so badly wants to see something that Vanderlinden says isn't there.

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This trick is called "Quarterback Controversy."

Poof! Just those very words have ugly images of in-fighting for playing time between two players and turmoil among team members.

Week in and week out, the spotlight has fallen on Mastrole and what it would take to get Jones into the game, since he is considered the future for the Maryland program.

Vanderlinden pulled a rabbit out of his helmet. He decided to platoon the two quarterbacks, using them in situations which best suit their talents.

"We don't have a controversy," Vanderlinden said last Saturday after unveiling the two-headed quarterback system in a 30-20 win over Temple. "We have two quarterbacks with different styles that complement each other."

Maryland does have two quarterbacks with distinctly different styles, and both are expected to play today against No. 9 Florida State at 1 p.m. at Byrd Stadium.

Mastrole is a throwback to Maryland's run-and-shoot days under then-coach Mark Duffner. A quarterback with a good strong arm that is at his best with quick drops into the pocket and quicker reads for delivering strong, accurate passes.

Jones is the project Vanderlinden is building for the new millennium. A quarterback who can throw the ball on the run and run both a pro-style and option-style attack. He has speed to tuck the ball under his arm, making him a target for offenses while he pitches the ball to a strong running back like LaMont Jordan. His passing? It will come in time.

"I was pleased with the way the quarterbacks handled their roles," Vanderlinden said. "They complemented each other and did what they did well. Kenny had some perfectly thrown balls. We will continue to look for opportunities to throw the ball downfield. If we run the ball, we create more time to throw and get more explosion on the offense."

Now, Quarterback Controversy looks more like a smoke screen. It's not what it seems. But it creates some very strong images.

* Playing two quarterbacks forces opposing teams to work up two game plans. They know that Mastrole will be passing and Jones will be running, but then it's a matter of execution.

Against Temple, Mastrole ran 42 plays and guided the Terps to 234 yards of offense and 24 points. His strength was his 104 yards passing. Jones ran 31 plays, good for 146 yards and six points, while rushing for 24 yards.

"I was very pleased with the way both quarterbacks played," Vanderlinden said. "If you could have drawn it up going into the (Temple) game and had it turn out like it did, I think you would have said, 'That's using both quarterbacks pretty effectively.'"

* Playing two quarterbacks is an easy way to build a complete quarterback.

Mastrole is in need of a vote of confidence. Jones needs experience to be ready for the future. Both willingly accept the situation, because the system allows both to get what they want - playing time and improvement. Starting is just a formality.

"The competition is nice. It made me player harder. When I got the opportunity, I tried to capitalize on it," Mastrole said. "(The decision of who starts) out of my hands. I can only control what Ken Mastrole does. When I go out there, I just compete. Alternating time? If we keep winning, I'm all for it."

"It worked well (last Saturday). I'm happy with what I did. I did the job and we won," Jones said. "I don't have any control on if I start. Coach is my keeper; it's not up to me. If we can do that, alternating is fine with me."

* Using two quarterbacks is a way to cover other Terrapins flaws.

The offensive line hasn't had consistent success in protecting the quarterback or blowing open holes for the running game.

Efficient offense is important to the Terps because it keeps the defense off the field and fresh. It also gives opposing teams less time to pick on Maryland's improving, yet fragile, defensive backfield.

The use of organized mayhem helps spread defenses out to allow runners to make moves for yardage while creating less blocking situations. It also promotes long, time-consuming drives.

In the last three games, Maryland drives have averaged nine plays, 56.9 yards and 3 minutes, 58 seconds.

In order to do it effectively, Maryland needs Mastrole to throw and Jones to run.

"I'm not Randall. I don't have 4.5 speed," Mastrole said. "When I have a chance to duck my head and go for it, but that's not my forte."

* And maybe the biggest trick, and reason, of all for using the alternating quarterbacks is the rallying point it gives to the Terps.

Without it, Maryland is picked to finish last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. With it, the Terps have grabbed some attention and have created the illusion of being a dangerous team.

And that isn't a bad illusion, considering Clemson and North Carolina are suffering through down seasons and Duke and Wake Forest are building programs, too.

With any luck, some diversions, a little execution and some magic, Vanderlinden and the Terps believe they could sneak in and steal a bowl berth.

"The first step to winning is confidence," Vanderlinden said. "A football team's confidence is a fragile thing. The hardest thing to teach a young team is confidence. You have to go in thinking you have a chance. It puts on a level playing field."

David Copperfield has pulled of more amazing tricks with just a little "controversial" diversion and some willing belief, hasn't he?

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