By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 7, 2009
BERKELEY, Calif., Sept. 6 -- A Maryland team that arrived here booming with confidence and youthful exuberance returned home on a cross-country charter flight in the wee hours of Sunday morning bearing scars from the school's worst season-opening loss since 1892.
While a handful of veteran players said the team needs to move on quickly, the effects from Saturday night's historic 52-13 loss to 12th-ranked California could linger for some time. For coaches and players, the season's first impression was the worst imaginable, leaving Coach Ralph Friedgen with a litany of concerns and issues to contemplate.
"These guys are learning on the run," a soft-spoken Friedgen said after witnessing the second-worst margin of defeat in his nine years at Maryland. "It is what it is; we have got to make it as best we can. I told them in the locker room we have to look at this game and learn from it, see where we made our mistakes and look at it constructively."
A California team that has national title aspirations exposed several Maryland weaknesses and showed the super-sized gap that separates the Terrapins from a national contender. For Maryland, which has 58 scholarship players with three or more years of eligibility remaining, inexperience manifested itself in several ways that troubled Friedgen.
There was the young offensive line, the most pressing concern throughout preseason camp, allowing six sacks, including five in the first half. Making matters worse was the turf toe injury suffered by hulking left tackle Bruce Campbell, whose status for Saturday's home opener against James Madison is uncertain.
"That is going to be a work in progress," Friedgen said of the offensive line, which started two former walk-ons -- guard Andrew Gonnella and tackle Paul Pinegar -- on the right side.
There was the new-look defense, billed as more aggressive and unorthodox, giving up 542 yards and letting California quarterback Kevin Riley throw four touchdown passes. Friedgen said California picked up many of Maryland's blitzes and Friedgen was surprised that experienced players -- not first-year starters -- did not always blitz when they were supposed to, which left defensive backs in tough man-to-man matchups for too long.
"I still believe in what we are doing defensively," Friedgen said. "But we got whipped up front."
There was an assortment of penalties, a problem for the Terrapins throughout camp, that derailed drives, particularly in the first half. Maryland committed five first-quarter penalties, which included having an illegal player downfield that negated Chris Turner's touchdown pass to tight end Matt Furstenburg.
"That was one of the things we emphasized before the game," Friedgen said. "We have to allow the other team to [make mistakes]. We can't do that. We take away a touchdown because we line up wrong? Come on."
And there was that wide-eyed look in the faces of many young players, the expression that Friedgen had feared he would see before the game. In short, they displayed stage fright before 62,367 fans and a national television audience.
"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 performance had few redeeming qualities. Maryland's most consistent offensive weapon was an 18-year-old place kicker, Nick Ferrara, who made both field goal attempts -- 26 and 42 yards -- in his first college game. Among the only other positives for Maryland was that several ACC teams fell on hard times this weekend, including two teams -- Virginia and Duke -- that lost to division I-AA opponents.
"We can't sulk," Maryland center Phil Costa said. "Probably a lot of young guys are down right now. The older guys know it's easier to move on because they have been there before. But we have to motivate the young guys and keep their confidence up."
Other than Campbell's injury, Maryland emerged relatively unscathed. Safety Jamari McCollough left the game in the first half with what Friedgen called a sprained left ankle. Wide receiver and punt returner Tony Logan did not make the trip because of a shoulder injury that Friedgen does not believe is serious.
Turner said he expected more from his own team but acknowledged that the Golden Bears were a stronger team than players anticipated.
"We just have to make corrections and get this going," Turner said. "If we can eliminate the penalties, eliminate the turnovers, we should be in pretty good shape. In the locker room, no one is that down. We know we should have played better, but it's a very long season."