Maryland Makes Its Mark as Quarterback U.

Quarterback was supposed to be one of Maryland's biggest question marks this season. Instead,  Sam Hollenbach enters tonight's game against Virginia Tech as the ACC's leader in total offense.
Quarterback was supposed to be one of Maryland's biggest question marks this season. Instead, Sam Hollenbach enters tonight's game against Virginia Tech as the ACC's leader in total offense. (John McDonnell - The Washington Post)

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By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Over the past three decades, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe have put together successful quarterbacks with whatever parts they've found at stops ranging from the ACC to the NFL, from Division I-AA to the Canadian Football League.

Five years ago, Friedgen and Taaffe intersected in College Park, and notwithstanding last season's offensive doldrums, their quarterback assembly line is humming again.

The newest model, junior Sam Hollenbach, was supposed to be one of Maryland's biggest question marks this season. Instead, the former fourth-stringer enters tonight's game against No. 3 Virginia Tech as the ACC's leader in total offense and the league's second-most efficient passer, behind only the Hokies' Marcus Vick.

"That would be Friedgen and Taaffe at their best," said Tracy Ham, who played under Taaffe with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.

In interviews with a half-dozen quarterbacks who have played for one or both coaches, the same themes were repeated again and again. Success resulted not from physical attributes but from an understanding of defensive coverages and offensive responses. It was measured not in the sizzling deep throw but in the correct read, in getting the offense into advantageous matchups. Pregame preparation was incessant and at times overwhelming, but the knowledge paid dividends on the field.

"I'll tell you one thing: I learned more football from those two guys than I learned in my whole career," said former Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien, who was 21-6 as a starter. "If I didn't play under those two coaches, I don't know if I would have ever had the successful career that I had."

The coaches' biggest strength, according to McBrien and the other former quarterbacks, is their insistence that their signal-callers understand opposing defenses and how to dissect them, allowing the quarterbacks to internalize the game plan and to modify the plays that come into the huddle.

In film study before the Gator Bowl following the 2003 season, for example, Taaffe would pause the action, point to West Virginia's defense and demand that McBrien predict what would happen next. When New Year's Day finally arrived, the quarterback felt like he was taking an exam while armed with something mightier than a No. 2 pencil.

"To make it simple, they gave me all the answers to the test," McBrien said this week. "You know you have every answer; you know you're going to get a good grade. That's exactly what it feels like on game day."

McBrien ended his Maryland career that afternoon by passing for a personal-best 381 yards as the Terps rolled to a 41-7 win; he left College Park as the most efficient quarterback in Maryland history.

And the tenets he described have held true in different decades and in vastly different situations. Jack Douglas, for example, started for four years under Taaffe at The Citadel, almost never passing the ball while leading one of the best rushing offenses in Division I-AA. But his recollections were nearly identical to McBrien's.

"You were well-prepared; that's the biggest thing," said Douglas, who led the Bulldogs to wins over Arkansas and South Carolina while Taaffe was his head coach and finished his career as the most successful running quarterback in I-AA history. Taaffe "must have been a boy scout or something. You wouldn't see a situation in a game that you didn't see in practice at least once or twice. Actually, practice was harder than the games; my second or third start, I came to that realization. When you came to the game, it was easy. When you saw how they were lining up on Saturday, you said, 'Man, I've seen this before.' That was the beauty of what he was able to do."


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