COLLEGE PARK - Well before the Maryland coaching staff began simplifying its offense, starting quarterback Scott McBrien reminded himself of one of the job's drawbacks.
When you play behind center, the difference between winning and losing is that one means taking a bow, and the other means you duck.
"I've been through that before," said McBrien, who was a part-time starter two years ago for a West Virginia team whose fans take the game far more seriously. Most recently, he completed nine of 23 passes and threw two interceptions during the team's season-opening 22-0 loss to Notre Dame last weekend.
"I don't read anything. I don't listen to anything. They've got to put the blame somewhere. They're not going to put it on the right guard, or on the tight end. It's going to be the quarterback."
McBrien, a junior from DeMatha, will start again tonight against visiting Akron. Sophomore Chris Kelley, who completed three of nine passes with an interception after entering in the third quarter Saturday, might also play.
McBrien narrowly beat out Kelley in the fall camp, and it was vice versa in the spring. So with Maryland still waiting for its first big play of the season and neither standing out, the situation at quarterback remains murky.
"I'm going to stay with the same people," head coach Ralph Friedgen said earlier this week (though he later made Chris Downs the starter at tailback). "It's Scott's job now, but I'm not afraid to play Chris Kelley, whe- ther it's going good or going bad."
The hope for today is the inverse of what happened Saturday. McBrien will make the right calls at the line. He won't lock in on any one receiver. In the option, he'll look as if he were born to run it, even turning upfield occasionally. And the pass catchers will catch passes.
Shaun Hill, who would distinguish himself by the end of 2001, didn't start that season strong, either. So said offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, who remembers last year's starter producing 86 passing yards in the opener against North Carolina.
"We weren't real sharp a year ago in that opening game except that we could run the ball," Taaffe said. "We have high hopes. You've got to make the corrections and move forward, and hopefully, we've done some things to help ourselves improve the execution and now you've got to play the next game."
There were enough elements in the mix for the Maryland staff to simply write off last weekend as a Murphy's Law night - particularly after one game - and not tinker much with the offense. Notre Dame's defense differed from what the Terps envisioned from watching tapes of Stanford, where the Irish staff came from. The run game never got going, and receivers dropped passes to kill drives.
Maryland simply had more mental errors than the staff was used to seeing.
"When you have that many mental errors, either you're giving them too much, or they're not absorbing what you're teaching," Taaffe said. "The bottom line is you're not executing. ... We have to give ourselves a chance."
While the coordinator made it clear that the Terps weren't dumbing down their offense - "it's still major college football; you can't just go in with two or three plays" - both McBrien and Kelley seemed happy with shorter drops, fewer pass protections and routes than they'd been bombarded with for the past six months.
McBrien said that he now finds himself and others more sure about their decisions.
"Some guys are in this offense during the game and they're worrying about if they're making the right move, instead of just playing," he said. "When you're worrying about what you're doing right, what you're doing wrong, you hold back your talents. It's always a positive when you cut things down and let guys play."
As for criticism, McBrien said that he gets enough of that in practice from Friedgen - "going out in a game is so much easier, because he's not down your back" - to the point that anything else seems rather tepid.
As much as the Terps did to make themselves one-year wonder candidates, McBrien said he hopes the offense can reverse itself.
"We had chances to make plays," he said. "Our receivers ran great routes. The line did a great job of protecting, so the potential is there. We just need that one big play to get this season going."
NOTE: Five thousand tickets remain for tonight's game.