By Jonathan Okanes
Sunday, September 6th, 2009 at 2:43 pm in Gameday.
Jeff Tedford’s concern about Maryland’s defense coming into Saturday’s game was legitimate. The Bears had never seen the Terps defense on film under new defensive coordinator Don Brown, and all reports said it was full of unique and aggressive schemes. Cal had studied tape of Brown’s defense at his previous stop at Massachusetts, but one report said his defense at Maryland contains 75 percent new schemes.
But although Cal wasn’t exactly sure what they were going to see in terms of specifics (“We need to know who to block,” Tedford said during the week), the Bears knew they would see a lot of blitzing and pursuing up the field. That meant the Terps might be susceptible to the big play, and that’s exactly what they were.
Jahvid Best had a 73-yard touchdown run and a 40- yard run. Kevin Riley threw a 42-yard touchdown pass and a 39-yard touchdown pass, and added another 39-yard pass. That helped Cal rack up 542 yards of offense.
Cal’s receivers found themselves facing man coverage most of the night while Best didn’t have may defensive backs waiting for him when he burst past the line of scrimmage.
“When you live by the blitz, if you break it, you’re going to go a long way,” Tedford said. “I thought our offensive line did a nice job and then our backs are pretty good at finding creases.”
“They were really aggressive and athletic,” wide receiver Marvin Jones said. “We were put into a situation where we could make plays.”
If the passing game is the key to the season, the Bears took a good step forward Saturday. Riley was an efficient 17-for-26 for 298 yards and four touchdowns (a career-high), and made a couple of perfectly-thrown passes as well as quick and intelligent reads for completions. Jones had three catches for 74 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown catch on a flawless pass from Riley. Verran Tucker had three catches for 50 yards.
“I thought Kevin was really sharp,” Tedford said. “Kevin made good decisions. He made some people miss in the pocket. I thought Kevin played really solid tonight and ran the offense very, very well.”
The notion that Cal has everything in place besides a passing game for a special season was well-documented heading into the season. Cal’s players walked away feeling like Saturday’s performance illustrated just that.
“Kevin was playing really well,” Best said. “That’s the kind of production we need from him. If he keeps having production like that, we’re going to be unstoppable.”
“We always want to show that we’re dynamic,” Jones said.” Obviously, we have the most explosive player in the nation right now. We want to show that we can also pass.”
Perhaps nothing illustrated Riley’s improved comfort level and grasp of the offense than his 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Skylar Curran in the second quarter. It wasn’t so much the way he ducked under Maryland defensive end Jared Harrell to avoid a sack. It was the promptness with which he immediately recognized Curran being open and slung the ball to him in a heartbeat.
“I’m much more confident in my throwing,” Riley said. “Last year, I might have stuttered and aimed it because there was a guy next to him. From the very beginning, I felt like I was throwing the ball well.”
One of Cal’s defensive stars of the night was defensive lineman Ernest Owusu, who played much more than expected. Owusu, a redshirt sophomore, had only five career tackles coming into the game. He had four Saturday, including two sacks and another tackle for loss.
“He has improved a ton and gotten better,” Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. “He might be one of our most improved guys. It was great to see.”
The Bears recorded six sacks overall, with Mike Mohamed, Cameron Jordan and Jarred Price each recording one and Devin Bishop and Tyson Alualu teaming up on another.
Maryland is replacing four offensive linemen this season and doing so with two former walk-ons.
“We took advantage of a young offensive line,” Gregory said. “They’re going to get better, but we kept them off-balance.”