COLLEGE PARK -- A month ago, Scott Milanovich and Jermaine Lewis were two relatively unknown sophomores in a struggling Maryland football program.
Now, though the Terps are winless in three games, Milanovich-to-Lewis is the most productive passing combination in the nation.
Milanovich's 1,109 total yards passing and Lewis' 163 yards receiving per game lead the NCAA Division I-A.
Milanovich completed passes to superback Mark Mason and seven other wide receivers in Saturday's 42-37 loss to West Virginia, but he says that he's quickly developed an affinity for Lewis.
"With Jermaine and somebody else who might be borderline open, I'll take a chance on his [Lewis'] speed," Milanovich said. "You get a lot of confidence in one receiver, you're going to give him the benefit of the doubt in one-on-one coverage. That's not to say that I don't have confidence in everyone else, but there's a lot of confidence between us right now."
It's telling that confidence cropped into Milanovich's comments. His was shaken in August 1992, when he lost the Terps' starting job to John Kaleo, in part because of a rap against his mobility. Speed, conversely, was the reason Lewis was recruited, because he was known better as a national 100-meter champion as a senior at El- eanor Roosevelt High in nearby Greenbelt.
"Last year, I thought he [Lewis] was just a real fast guy, a track guy," Milanovich said. "He's shown me so much this year, with his routes and knowledge of coverages. I didn't think he had that last year. The kid has the whole package."
At 20, Milanovich isn't exactly a grizzled veteran, but in three weeks he has silenced those who said he didn't fit Maryland's attack by putting together the most productive three-game stretch ever by a Terps quarterback. The latest Milanovich minutiae: His five touchdowns in two straight games are a first in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
The offensive line was listed as the Terps' strength coming into this season, but Milanovich's scrambling ability had something to do with his not getting sacked by West Virginia, despite attempting 54 passes.
"In the past, people said I didn't have the quickness to play quarterback in the run-and-shoot," said Milanovich, the ACC Offensive Back of the Week.
"They didn't know what they were talking about."
A year after Kaleo and Marcus Badgett established themselves as one of the nation's top quarterback-receiver duos, Milanovich (6 feet 4, 220 pounds) and Lewis (5-9, 170) have done the same, and their huge numbers are testament to what's possible in the run-and-shoot.
Only 22 of Milanovich's 88 completions, 25 percent, have gone to Lewis, and Milanovich has spread the offense around as designed. If he hadn't left the West Virginia game with a mild concussion in the third quarter, Andrew Carter probably would have had more than 14 catches, and Mason and Russ Weaver are right behind with 13 apiece.
"How he [Lewis] does and Scott does is really reflective of the entire group," coach Mark Duffner said. "We don't ever want to be in a situation where, if you take Jermaine Lewis or anybody out of our attack, you've stopped our offense. Our offense feeds on participation by everyone."
Nonetheless, when it's time to go long distance, Milanovich calls Lewis' number.
The scenario begins with three receivers lining up right and Lewis left.
Lewis, who one spring might run for Maryland, but who hasn't trained seriously for track since leading the nation's schoolboys with a 10.33-second clocking in summer 1992, doesn't need much time to blow by the cornerback, and Milanovich already has released the ball by then.
It went for 80 yards against West Virginia and 78 and 67 against North Carolina. Lewis most proved his mettle as a receiver, however, on a 44-yard post pattern against Virginia and on a similar route that Milanovich under threw against West Virginia. Lewis came back on that ball, beat two defenders for it on the 7-yard line and then got into the end zone.
Milanovich to Lewis already has produced six touchdowns, but the 78-yarder against North Carolina wasn't one of them. Lewis, who has not recovered completely from a hamstring pull he suffered last year, beat double coverage, but was brought down from behind by the Tar Heels' Jimmy Hitchcock on the 1-yard line.
Lewis doesn't say much, but the soles of his shoes speak volumes. He caught 30 passes last season -- 18 in the last three games -- but he says the success he has had this year "has taken me by surprise."
The six touchdowns that Milanovich and Lewis have connected on set a pace that would better the NCAA single-season record (( (19) for a passing combination.
Two months remain in the season, but they figure that's in their favor, because Saturday's game at Virginia Tech will be all of the fourth college start for each.
Opponent .. .. Com .. .. Att .. .. Yds .. .. TD
Virginia .. .. 19 .. .. . 33 .. ... 253 .. .. 2
N. Carolina .. *34 .. ... 50 .. ... 405 .. . **5
W. Virginia .. *35 .. ... 54 .. .. *451 .. . **5
Totals .. .. .. 88 .. .. 137 .. . 1,109 .. .. 12
Opponent .. .. Rec .. ... Yds .. .. .. .. .. TD
Virginia .. .. 7 .. .. ... 94 .. .. .. .. .. 1
N. Carolina .. 9 .. .. .. 250 .. .. .. .. .. 2
W. Virginia .. 6 .. .. .. 145 .. .. .. .. . **3
Totals .. .. . 22 .. .. . 489 .. .. .. .. .. 6
* - Maryland record
** - Tied Maryland record