Maryland Coach Ron Vanderlinden said he was encouraged by the way quarterback Latrez Harrison practiced with his sprained left ankle yesterday and expects him to be about 90 percent healthy for the season-ending game against Virginia Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
Harrison, a freshman, suffered the sprain early in last Saturday's 49-10 loss to top-ranked Florida State and was replaced by fifth-year senior Trey Evans, who was intercepted three times when the outcome still was somewhat in doubt and for a fourth time with less than a minute left.
Meanwhile, defensive end Peter Timmins pinched a nerve in his shoulder against the Seminoles, and Vanderlinden said he would be held out of practice until Wednesday. Wide receiver Jason Hatala, who missed the last two games with a broken pinkie finger on his right hand, has been cleared to play against Virginia.
Maryland (5-5) must beat Virginia (6-4) to be eligible for a bowl bid.
There were indications Vanderlinden might move Randall Jones to quarterback from safety if Harrison reinjures his ankle and Evans is ineffective. Vanderlinden closed practice yesterday for the first time this season, but Jones was observed going to the drills in the yellow jersey that quarterbacks wear.
"No comment," Vanderlinden said when asked about the switch. Players also are off limits to reporters this week.
Jones started four games at quarterback as a freshman last season, but was moved to his more natural position after the first game this season when redshirt freshman Calvin McCall played so well. McCall suffered a season-ending ligament tear in his left knee late in the North Carolina State game two weeks ago. Jones is more adept than Evans at running the option, but Evans is the superior passer.
After the Florida State game, Vanderlinden alluded to problems with the option game without Harrison, saying: "We had several option plays called that could have gone for big yards, but we just didn't get the ball pitched. If Calvin or even Latrez are in there, I think we hit some seams and move the ball and have a chance to be in the game."
The option is one way to counteract defenses that stack the line of scrimmage for tailback LaMont Jordan. Without Harrison for nearly the entire game, Jordan still gained 169 yards Saturday, the most a runner produced against the Seminoles in four years.
Even if he is fit to play against the Cavaliers, Harrison will have lost valuable experience and practice time going full speed. The Florida State game was his first action other than a few mop-up roles, but he left after just 10 snaps. He completed 2 of 4 passes for 17 yards--and both were under severe pressure.
Harrison was moved ahead of Evans immediately after McCall suffered his injury, although Evans had been listed on the depth chart as the No. 2 quarterback all season. Harrison's versatility and strong arm apparently overcame his inexperience--and teammates like his confident attitude.
Evans was upset with his play, and refused to use his lack of playing time as an excuse. The native of Austin was in the mix for the starting position during the spring of 1998 but tore the anterior cruciate knee ligament late in fall camp and missed all of last season. His first interception Saturday led to the touchdown that lifted Florida State's lead to 14-3.
"I'm a senior," Evans said. "I'm smart. I just made some stupid throws."