- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

— Fog from the nearby San Francisco Bay rolled into Memorial Stadium just before kickoff Saturday evening and hovered intermittently throughout the game.

Perhaps Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen wouldn’t have minded had it descended upon the ancient bowl for the entire night.

Had it, he might not have seen the turnovers, the penalties, the missed tackles and the ugly truth: No. 12 California’s 52-13 rout before 62,367 reflected the severe divide between the highly touted Golden Bears and the youthful Terrapins.

“I think what you saw today was a very experienced football team playing against a bunch of young guys who were in the fray for the first time,” Friedgen said.

Maryland viewed the cross-country jaunt as an opportunity to show off an aggressive new defense, unleash a young receiving corps and perhaps minimize eight months worth of wariness for a green offensive line.

The Terps (0-1) did none of those things – at least not in the manner they hoped they would.

The defense was torched both on the ground (Jahvid Best’s 137 yards and two touchdowns) and through the air (Kevin Riley’s four scoring strikes). The receivers had modest success — in large part because quarterback Chris Turner rarely had time to throw.

The senior quarterback, so sharp in preseason camp, was consistently sent scrambling and was sacked six times. Maryland yielded its most points since a 55-6 loss at Virginia Tech in 2004, and absorbed its worst opening game beating since a 50-0 loss that serves as the program’s debut in 1892.

“It hurts a lot, especially when everybody in that locker room thought we were ready,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “They just kind of beat us.”

The loss itself wasn’t shocking, per se, either from a contemporary or historical perspective. Maryland was a 21 -point underdog, the largest spread a Friedgen team has faced in his nine seasons. And the Terps never have beaten a ranked team in an opener and fell to 2-23 all-time when facing a ranked opponent in the first two weeks.

Yet what must have been jarring for Friedgen and his players was the sheer sloppiness that pervaded the entire first half – after which Cal comfortably led 31-6.

A Torrey Smith fumble on a kickoff led to a Best touchdown dive two plays later. Turners fumble near midfield preceded an eight-play drive capped when Riley turned in a spot-on matador imitation, causing Jared Harrell to whiff before finding Skylar Curran open in the end zone. And a penalty negated a Turner touchdown pass to tight end Matt Furstenburg.

“That was one of things we emphasized before the game: We have to allow the other team to [make mistakes],” Friedgen said. “We can’t do that. We take [away] a touchdown because we line up wrong? Come on.”

The end of the half was appropriate on both sides of the ball. Riley found Nyan Boateng open after a busted coverage for a score. The Terps were then handed possession inside midfield, and couldn’t manage a first down.

But the problems started far earlier, in the way Friedgen feared whenever he offered a caveat about his team during preseason camp. The words changed, but the message was always the same: Maryland could not afford to beat itself with penalties and turnovers.

So in their first outing of the season, the Terps beat themselves with penalties and turnovers. In the first quarter alone, Maryland was flagged five times to short-circuit drives and effectively handed the Golden Bears (1-0) a touchdown with a miscue.

Even late in the game, the Terps abetted the Bears, roughing passers and missing assignments deep into the night as the Golden Bears passed the half-a-hundred mark on Shane Vereens 15-yard screen pass from Riley.

If there was any solace to take from the evening, it was that several other ACC team badly stumbled in the opening week. Duke (against Richmond) and Virginia (against William & Mary) lost to lower-division teams, and N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest all fell in reasonably high-profile non-conference games as well.

And so the Terps took their chartered red-eye back to the East Coast with a loss — but in no worse shape than many of its fellow conference members.

“Of course you want to win every game that you play, but we want to win an ACC championship,” defensive tackle Travis Ivey said. “This has no credence on the ACC championship. It’s for bragging rights, it’s for national recognition, but those things will come.”

But falling in line with the rest of their reeling conference brethren – even against a feisty and superior opponent like California – wasn’t what the Terps had in mind. And since arguably the best thing to come from the night was the discovery of a viable kicker (freshman Nick Ferrara made a pair of attempts in the first half), it’s worth wondering what sort of lasting effects the trouncing may have on the Terps.

Certainly, the physical aspects of an encounter with a particularly fired-up bunch could linger. Tackle Bruce Campbell struggled with turf toe but played nearly the entire game. Safety Jamari McCollough, one of the Terps more valuable defenders last season, left with a sprained left ankle in the first half and did not return, and Friedgen did not know the results of McCollough’s X-rays immediately after the game.

Yet for a team determined to show just how much better they were than the pedestrian expectations of preseason prognosticators, the outcome was a sharp reversal of the usual sunny camp optimism.

Instead, the Terps were left to contend with the fog – always close enough to remind them of the evenings cloudy forecast, and never so near as to permit Maryland not to see its many deficiencies just as clearly as everyone else.

“I don’t like getting beat 52-13, I can tell you that,” Friedgen said. “But what am I going to do? I have a young team, I have to hang with them, I have to encourage them to get better.”

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