In early September, before the second game this season, Maryland coaches took a calculated gamble and decided not to redshirt freshman quarterback Latrez Harrison. There were two reasons: Harrison's immense ability and the chance that starter Calvin McCall might not be able to survive all 11 games without a serious injury.
"Right now," said quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson, "hindsight says we were 100 percent right."
If McCall had suffered that torn ligament in his left knee a month ago instead of last Saturday, the Terrapins might have turned to senior Trez Evans, who has been listed as the backup all season. Because Harrison had progressed so well during practice, usually running at least as many plays with the second team as Evans the last few weeks, Coach Ron Vanderlinden was quick to name him the starter for Saturday's game at top-ranked Florida State.
A year ago, Harrison was leading Booker T. Washington High in Atlanta to a 10-2 record while gaining recognition as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. Saturday, he will be under center against a team that has won 106 games this decade, that has won 37 of 41 games when ranked No. 1 and has not lost at home since Nov. 16, 1991.
"This is the moment I've been waiting for," Harrison said. "You don't really get a chance at the number one team in the nation very often. If Calvin were here, I'd be working with the [first-string] team every now and then, so I basically have a feel for the first unit anyway.
"I'll go play against anybody. . . . You can't be scared of the name Florida State."
Johnson will try to impress on Harrison most of what he has on McCall: "Don't do anything to lose the game, keep us in good plays [when the Seminoles change defensive looks at the line of scrimmage] and, when available, try to make plays."
"We'll cut back a slight bit from Calvin but still basically run our offense," Johnson said.
Both McCall and Harrison are adept at running an option offense. Harrison has a much stronger arm, but McCall had an entire year to become accustomed to the terminology and overall concept of the offense before being thrown into a game.
Harrison has been used in mop-up duty in four games, including most of the final four minutes of a 30-17 loss to North Carolina State Saturday after McCall's injury. The results: one completion in 13 attempts and three interceptions.
There were extenuating circumstances on each of the interceptions, all of which came against the Wolfpack.
"That's the first time I got out there and really played," Harrison said. "I won't make the same mistakes."