- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

Three plays elapsed Saturday at Byrd Stadium before the Maryland defense’s greatest conundrum was solved.

As it turns out, the Terrapins‘ pass rush won’t remain on a milk carton all season.

The defensive front, maligned after two quiet performances, produced five sacks and held potent California to 38 yards rushing as the Terrapins upset the 23rd-ranked Golden Bears 35-27.

“Thank God,” defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said. “I don’t think I could handle another week of ‘Why can’t we get pressure.’”

The senior can be certain he’ll hear something different after the Terps (2-1) flummoxed Cal (2-1) in a most unexpected manner.

The Golden Bears rolled up nearly 600 yards rushing in their first two games, hardly a good matchup for an undersized defensive line. Sophomore Jahvid Best, fresh off a 200-yard performance, appeared especially likely to capitalize against a Maryland front known for its inability to stop small, elusive backs in recent seasons.

Instead, Best was limited to 10 carries and 25 yards - including negative yardage in the first half - as the Terps remained wary of him from the start. In a particularly harsh moment, Best was forced to leave the game when Maryland cornerback Kevin Barnes drilled him just as a pass arrived.

But Best’s struggles didn’t constitute the defense’s greatest accomplishment. After entering the week as one of only three teams nationally without a sack in two games (North Texas and Washington were the others), Maryland needed just three plays before linebacker Moise Fokou took down Cal quarterback Kevin Riley.

It wasn’t his last, nor the Terps’. Certainly, Riley’s tendency to cling to the ball helped bump the sack total, but Maryland eventually arrived with some pressure with great frequency.

“They played spectacular,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “We felt it going into the week. They were tired of people saying ‘Hey, they can’t get any sacks.’ Our defense is more than capable of getting sacks. When they start getting one sack, it starts rolling and there’s a snowball effect.”

Unsurprisingly, the sacks came from Maryland’s linebackers, which is part of the design of the Terps’ alternate defense. With the defensive line gumming up Cal’s well-regarded offensive front, the linebackers had opportunities to create headaches in the backfield.

Dean Muhtadi’s half-sack was the only statistical contribution from the defensive line. But the unit was still effective, and Navarre nearly brought down Riley on a crucial fourth-down stop early in the fourth quarter.

“Going to this other defense helps us with that,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “It puts more people in there than they can block. I thought we did a better job of disguising things today. We’d show them one thing and move into another.”

The Golden Bears’ late surge was a product of being forced to pass and injuries and fatigue in the Maryland secondary. Yet for much of the day, the defensive front played much like it thought it could entering the season.

“It’s one game,” defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. “One day, they put your face on the stamp, the next day they spit on the wrong side. You’re only as good as your last win.”

Under that criteria, Maryland doesn’t look too bad right now.

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