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Terps take long road back to Top 20

November 14, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Scooter Monroe has been on the equivalent of two 25-mile hikes with the Maryland football team.

And if the Terps' leading receiver has learned anything while taking the two journeys, you can use different routes to reach similar destinations.

In this instance, the routes have been the way Maryland has traveled get itself into the Atlantic Coast Conference football chase in the last two seasons. The first was a direct itinerary to the title.

This year, it was a detour through Setback City before arriving in the land of Serious Contention after last week's come-from-behind win over North Carolina State.

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"We didn't know what to expect coming into this year," Monroe said. "We had a new quarterback (Scott McBrien) and we didn't know how he would do. We lost early, but Coach (Ralph Friedgen) told us we can do nothing but get better. This is a totally different team. It's like night and day. The offense is playing a lot better right now."

Maryland has ridden the dramatic turnaround back to No. 19 in the polls. Much of the rejuvenation of the offense can be traced directly to two players - the emergence of running back Chris Downs and the education of McBrien.

McBrien was thrust into a similar position as Shaun Hill, last year's starting quarterback. Both were taking over teams with many questions and numerous expectations. Both have responded in their own ways.

"Scott has a stronger arm than Shaun had, but Shaun knew the game plan so well," Monroe said. "He'd see the first half of the play being signaled in and turned to start telling us becuase he knew what the rest of it would be. That's how well he knew the game plan. Shaun put us in a position to win.

"I'm so happy for Scott. He's has a lot of pressure on him after the Notre Dame game. Now he has jelled and his reads are getting so much better and it's made us so much better. It's made us a better team."

McBrien's improvement has translated into a seven-game winning streak after starting 1-2 ... and some praise from Friedgen.

"We aren't the same team that played Florida State or Notre Dame," Friedgen said during his weekly press conference. "We have a quarterback who is playing pretty well. He's getting us into plays and he's making the correct reads. He's running the show. And then we have some guys who are making some plays."

McBrien has played his two best games of the season in the last two weeks in wins over North Carolina and North Carolina State. Against the Tar Heels, McBrien was rewarded by being named a captain.

Against the Wolfpack, the prize was a gorgeous naked bootleg option run out of the shotgun set for a 21-yard touchdown.

"We've tried to accentuate what Scott does best," Friedgen said. "In some areas, we have had to cut back. In others, we've expanded. But a lot of that is Scotty putting us in the right play or the right read. Coaches try to take and use players' strengths while trying to minimize their weaknesses.

"Scott has turned himself into a pretty good runner. We didn't anticipate that at the beginning of the year. That adds another problem for the other team to worry about."

This year's road traveled puts Maryland in second place in the ACC with an 8-2 record with a nationally televised game at Clemson on Saturday. And now, the Terrapins have faith in Scott McBrien to show them the right way to a favorable final destination.

"I think it's due to Scott's athletic ability," Monroe said. "Scott gets us in the right plays and we have a lot of big-play capability. Last year, it was a confidence isssue. This year, we know how, but we have to do it week in and week out. In the beginning of the year, we weren't doing that. Now we are."

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