California Dominates Maryland
Sunday, September 6, 2009
BERKELEY, Calif., Sept. 5 -- The thick fog that hung over Memorial Stadium threatened for much of the night to creep down to field level and cloud views of Maryland's season-opener against California. Unfortunately for Ralph Friedgen, it never did, forcing Maryland's head coach to have his worst football fears realized before his eyes in crisp detail.
Friedgen saw his players commit costly penalties and turnovers early in the game and later watched open California wide receivers catch virtually uncontested touchdown passes. The one constant for Friedgen: his quarterback Chris Turner -- sacked six times -- curling into fetal position because of inadequate protection.
In short, Friedgen, who had little sense of what to expect from one of the nation's youngest teams, witnessed many inexperienced players display stage fright in a 52-13 loss before 62,367 fans and a nationally televised audience. This Maryland team will play 11 more regular season games and may well march on to have a successful season, but 12th-ranked California revealed the super-sized gap that currently separates Maryland from a national contender.
"These guys," Friedgen said of his young players, "are learning on the run."
A soft-spoken Friedgen addressed reporters after the game in a tunnel near family members, saying that he maintains confidence in his team and new-look defense, and that an inexperienced offensive line won't get better overnight. He also said his concern began in pre-game warmups when he saw wide-eyed looks on the faces of some young players.
"I saw that, 'Where are we?'" Friedgen said. "When they get in there, the bullets are flying and it is, 'Welcome to major college football.' I don't like getting beat 52-13, but what am I going to do? I have got a young team, I am going to hang with them."
The loss marked the second-worst margin of defeat in his nine seasons at Maryland and the worst season-opening loss for Maryland since 1892.
The most glaring deficiency was the team's most pressing concern throughout preseason camp: an inexperienced offensive line that starts two former walk-ons on the right side. Turner -- who completed 17 of 30 passes for 167 yards -- for large stretches was on point with passes, but the senior had little time to scramble away from pressure, much less to find playmakers in the open field.
The series that epitomized Maryland's offensive line struggles occurred late in the first half, when the Golden Bears sacked Turner on consecutive plays. On the second sack, Cal linebacker Jarred Price shrugged off Maryland right guard Justin Lewis and walloped Turner, who made an inauspicious return to his home state.
Turner said he believes in his linemen but acknowledged, "when we got protection we were moving the ball downfield." Making matters worse is that left tackle Bruce Campbell suffered turf toe and Friedgen expressed concern over his availability in the coming days.
"We can't sulk," said Maryland center Phil Costa, who cited poor communication as one of the issues for linemen.
A cluster of Golden Bears fans barely had time to congregate on famed Tightwad Hill, the small mountain that gives fans a bird's-eye view of the stadium, before California was well on its way to avenging last season's 35-27 loss in College Park. Five first-quarter penalties and two costly fumbles -- one by kick returner Torrey Smith, another by Turner -- doomed Maryland early, as the Golden Bears took a 14-0 lead in the game's first six minutes.