Jerry Claiborne's decision to bench quarterback Mike Tice in favor of Bob Milkovich was met with mixed emotions in the Maryland locker room yesterday with a number of players saying that Tice is being made the scapegoat in the team's current three-game losing streak.
"I feel sorry for Mike, he's getting a lot of abuse," said wingback Jan Carinci, the team's leading receiver. "i didn't think he sould have been yanked on Saturday. When an offense is going bad, there's always a tendency to say, Let's change the quarterback.'
"It may mot be the quarterback's fault. Look at me. I'm probably playing worse than anybody. I haven't made a block downfield in three weeks."
"Mike didn't do anything wrong," added fullback Rick Fasano. "When an offense is going bad it's always easy to point at the quarterback. But maybe he's not the one messing up.
One man not pointing the finger was Tice. The 6-foot 7, 230-pound junior admitted he was depressed about the change but refused to blame anyone else for the team's recent problems.
"We've only scored two touchdowns the last three weeks and he (Claiborne) said he thought we needed a change. I'm not sure I understand it completely but all I can do now is keeping working and hope I get another chance."
Milkovich, a 6-3, 210-pound sophomore was understandably excited about the change and confident he could help turn things around for the offense, which picked up just 133 yards total offense in a 7-0 loss to North Carolina State Saturday.
"I've been waiting three years for this chance," said Milkovich, who was red-shirted last year. "I always practice as if I'm going to play but this week there's a little more incentive because there's no more wondering, I know I'll be playing, starting, and it's a great feeling.$"There are times when I've thought about this situation 24 hours a day. People ae always asking me if I think I should be starting over Mike. I've tried hard not to dwell on it because it can get to you after a while."
Milkovich added that he thinks it is important for the offense to get off to a quick start Saturday against 5-1 Wake Forest because of the confidence factor.
"We need to do something big early," he said. "I think that would take a lot of pressure off us. There's a fine line between what the offense was doing the first three weeks and what it's been doing the last three. It's something intangible, I can't really pinpoint it. But we need to do something quickly to get us going." Milkovich replaced Tice in the fourth quarter of the State game and completed six of 17 passes with one interception. Although Claiborne insists he has not lost confidence in Tice, the coach's play-calling in the first half Saturday indicated otherwise. Claiborne called only one pass play.
Sunday, after looking at films and c onsulting with offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Jerry Eisaman, Claiborne decided to make the switch. He then called both players into his office and told them Milkovich was the starter.
"He just said we needed a change," Tice said. "That was all, it didn't take very long. Honestly, I hope Bobby does well this week. But I hope I get another chance."
Milkovich graduated from Rockville's Wootton High School in 1976. He was a quarterback there for three years. A business major, the blond, curly-haired quarterback was taking a lot of ribbing from second-teamers in his corner of the locker room yesterday.
"It's the new Sonny (as in Jurgensen)" went one crack.
Despite the teasing, it was obvious that many players were ambivalent: they like Milkovich and respect his ability but feel badly for Tice. Milkovich pointed out that quarterbacks by nature are apt to take the blame for an entire team's failings.
"You know what they say about the quarterback always being in the lime-light," he said "I guess it's true. One of the reasons I like playing quarterback is the added pressure.
"You don't have to just perform physically, you have to do it mentally. Everybody's watching you all the time."
On Saturday, Maryland people will be watching Milkovich closely. He is a different quarterback from Tice in that he propably has more mobility but does not have the whipsaw arm. Tice is still recuperating from a springtime shoulder operation. At times, he has thrown the ball superbly. His performance has been erratic at other times.
Claiborne, always trying to downplay lineup changes, termed the switch nothing unusual. But the very fact that he called the two players into his office instead of simply making he change after grading films points up the fact that he and Eisaman weighed their options carefully before making a move.
"You know when you look at the film we're just one block away from breaking some plays," said Carinci as Tice walked by him in the hallway. "What we really need is to make that block."
Another player glancing around to see who was listening was even more direct: "There's not a lot of differences between Mike and Bobby," he said. "Bobby's no savior, neither is Mike. But they're a little desperate. sThey have to gamble. This is the gamble. It's not fair to Mike but whoever said life was fair?
"'I'f we win Saturday the coach is a genius. If not . . ." he shrugged.
"Maybe next week we'll try Brent (third string quarterback Brent Dewitz)."