By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Ralph Friedgen planted the final seeds for yesterday's 35-27 victory over No. 23 California in a five-minute meeting Friday night, when the Terrapins' head coach greeted players in the team hotel with an unexpected and pointed question: "Who in this room has ever been told he is not good enough?"
Friedgen raised his hand. One after another, players followed.
Growing red-faced and sprinkling in four-letter words, Friedgen then said: "How does that make you feel? It makes me mad. What are you going do to about it? That's what people are saying about us. You have a chance tomorrow on national TV to show them who you are. We need to get after these guys as soon as they get off the bus."
The Byrd Stadium crowd of 49,527 yesterday watched a different team than the one that slogged through its opener and suffered the worst loss of Friedgen's eight-year tenure last week at Middle Tennessee. The Terrapins held a California team that was one week removed from a 66-point effort to six points through three quarters, limited the nation's sixth-best rushing attack to 38 yards and scored as many points (14) in the game's first seven minutes as they had in each of the past two games.
"Everyone played angry," defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said.
Instead of employing the passive pass rush that defined the season's first two games, Maryland applied constant pressure on Kevin Riley, sacking him five times and flushing him out of the pocket on several other occasions. When linebacker Moise Fokou registered Maryland's first sack of the season on California's first possession, Navarre thought: "Thank God. It would have been another week of, 'Why can't we get any pressure?' "
Instead of throwing errant passes, Maryland's Chris Turner for the most part demonstrated precision passing, completing 15 of 19 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. During a 14-play drive that spanned the first and second quarters, Turner's passes resulted in three conversions on third down, keeping alive a possession capped by a one-yard touchdown pass from Turner to tight end Dan Gronkowski.
"This changes the whole season," Turner said of the victory.
And instead of missing tackles like they did last week, the Terrapins delivered bone-rattling hits, leaving the Golden Bears at times gasping for breath. Late in the second quarter, Riley threw a quick out in the direction of running back Jahvid Best, but cornerback Kevin Barnes leveled Best with a shoulder-to-chest collision. The ball fell incomplete, and Best, Cal's most explosive player, crawled on his knees and hands and vomited on the field. Before game's end, a replay was on YouTube.
"It was probably the hardest hit I have ever taken in my life," said Best, who went to the locker room but returned to action in the second half. "I had a little trouble breathing the rest of the game."
Best, a quicksilver back who had 200 rushing yards last week, finished yesterday with 25 yards on the ground. On the other hand, Da'Rel Scott, Maryland's speedy back, had 87 rushing yards and two touchdown runs before leaving the game in the third quarter to get his left shoulder evaluated.
Friedgen said after the game that Scott underwent a fluoroscope procedure and that the team doctor said Scott was healthy enough to reenter the game. It did not look like Maryland needed Scott because freshman Davin Meggett scampered 38 yards down the sideline and, moments later, scored on a one-yard run to give the Terrapins a 35-13 lead.
But Maryland's defenders tired, and California continued to throw the ball. Riley passed for 423 yards, 239 of them in the fourth quarter. Three fourth-quarter touchdowns erased Maryland's margin for error, but Maryland batted California's final onside kick out of bounds and time expired before the Golden Bears could get another possession.
California Coach Jeff Tedford said his decision to have his team arrive on the East Coast at 4 p.m. Friday, rather than on Thursday, had no effect. But both California and Maryland seemed to undergo dramatic makeovers in one week. When asked whether Maryland was the same team he had watched on film, Tedford said: "No, I would have to say not. We knew they had a lot of ability. I don't think the first two weeks they played to their potential. I think they had a fire lit under them after last week's loss; they were focused."
It remains to be seen whether the victory will produce a lasting effect. Maryland has not demonstrated week-to-week consistency, and defensive coordinator Chris Cosh acknowledged the public "puts your face on the stamp; the next day they spit on the wrong side." Players have admitted playing to the level of their competition, and Navarre even said yesterday, "I wish we could just play a ranked team every week."
But for at least this week, the victory will quiet Friedgen's critics. And Friedgen, who has questioned whether he still had a deft touch inspiring players, will have another week to find creative ways to get players to perform with the same fervor they displayed yesterday.
"This whole week," offensive coordinator James Franklin said, "the coaches, the players, the fans, everyone was [ticked]. [Friedgen's meeting] was the final piece to the puzzle."