Sept. 5, 2009
By Jennifer Starks
Special to Calbears.com
BERKELEY - Make no mistake.
With two lengthy romps and a pair of touchdowns in his back pocket, Cal running back Jahvid Best did nothing but add legitimacy to the Heisman talk currently swirling about him Saturday night. But chances are members of the Maryland football team won't leave the Bay Area bemoaning his exploits alone. The Golden Bears defense made sure of that.
No. 12 Cal clamped down on the Terps from the outset and never released its bite, helping the Bears notch a one-sided 52-13 victory over Maryland in their season-opener at Memorial Stadium.
"As a defense, we strive to make sure that certain things happen," sophomore defensive end Ernest Owusu said. "We take pride in what we do. If someone runs over 100 yards, we feel like we failed regardless. Were very prideful, that's all I can say."
Such a performance has come to be expected. After all, the Bears (1-0) return eight starters from a team that was ranked 23rd in the nation in scoring defense (19.9 points per game) and 26th in total defense (315.2 yards per game). As night fell in Berkeley, it was clear this group is intent on living up to its own high standards.
Cal surrendered 303 yards just 146 in the first half, and didn't give up a touchdown until Maryland tailback DaRel Scott broke free on a 39-yard scamper with 7:29 remaining in the third quarter. But the damage was already done.
Unlike last season's pilgrimage to College Park, Md., when the Bears fell behind in a hurry, the defense remained in lockdown mode from the start. Cal kept the Terps (0-1) at bay, and the Kevin Riley-led offense responded in kind to build a 31-6 lead at the half.
How good was the Cal defense? Just ask Maryland quarterback Chris Turner. Indeed, he claimed Cal "has one of the best defensive fronts we'll see all year." When Turner wasn't being hurried or chased out of the pocket, he was receiving a close-up view of the turf. The Bears dropped Turner six times, with Owusu accounting for two of the sacks.
Scott may also be able to offer an assessment. Scott, a first-team All-ACC selection, managed a mere 18 yards rushing in the first half. As a team, Maryland was limited to 136 yards on the ground, compared to 244 by Cal.
"Any time as a defense, you've got to shut down the run like that, that allows us to (dictate) the game," said linebacker Mike Mohamed, who finished with nine tackles. "And then the offense started scoring points. It was fun. When we shut down the run, I didn't know if they had anything else. We were just doing our jobs."
Cal coach Jeff Tedford tipped his cap to his defensive unit but acknowledged there is work to be done. Still, for the first game out of the chute, he was pleased with the effort.
"We played really well," Tedford said. "I thought we pressured the quarterback pretty well a couple of times. The defense played well, but we gave up a couple long runs. That wasn't good enough. We have to go back and look at that, but I thought they played well."