Previewing the Season : Maryland

120_medium  vs.  25_medium

Game #3 : September 13 @ Maryland, 12:00 PM EDT (televised on ESPN or ESPN2).

ragnarok:  Maryland is by far the most unfamiliar opponent on the 2008 schedule.  Cal has never faced the Terrapins (or Terps, if you will) in football.  In fact, Cal hasn't played any ACC school since defeating Clemson in the 1992 Citrus Bowl (Virginia Tech, of course, was a member of the Big East when Cal defeated them in the 2003 Insight Bowl).  All-time, Cal is 2-1-1 vs. the ACC, with the last regular season game being a Cal win at Georgia Tech in 1978.  So, not much history to go on here, though that hasn't stopped us from hating them.

So what about Maryland's recent history?  Well, since winning 10 games in 2003, including a beatdown of West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, the Terps have struggled through 3 losing seasons in the last 4 years, though last year's squad, at 6-6, at least got to play in a bowl game (falling 21-14 to Oregon State in the Emerald Bowl).  They did manage to take down two top-10 teams (Rutgers and Boston College), but weren't consistent enough to put together any kind of winning streak, stumbling to a 3-5 conference record, where they finished tied for 5th in the ACC's Atlantic Division.  Not much more is expected this year, as the media tabbed them to finish 5th again in their preseason poll.

Overall, this looks like a middling major conference team, albeit one that could surprise Cal, especially since the Bears are the ones that have to travel 3000 miles.  Unless there are some major issues, their opening games against Delaware and Middle Tennessee State probably won't tell us much; Cal will be their first true test.  Still, I'm not sure what to make of the Terrapins.  On a scale of 'Supremely Confident' to 'Wetting the Bed', how frightened should we be?

TwistNHook:  Yknow, in the MSU roundtable, we talked about how MSU had a lot of similarities with Cal.

Well, read these paragraphs from an article on Maryland football from The USA Today and tell me if it doesn't scream "CAL" to you:

Apart from the familiar red, white and black uniforms, it may be hard to recognize Maryland when play resumes in September. The squad that finished 6-7 after an Emerald Bowl loss in 2007 is undergoing major schematic changes on offense, defense and special teams.

Head coach Ralph Friedgen relinquished control of the offense during the offseason, hiring James Franklin as the offensive coordinator. The result is more of a West Coast attack that will feature more focus on the receiving corps and take advantage of the Terps' speed in the slot and in the backfield.

A familiar face will likely be under center, but which face that will be remained unsettled at the end of spring ball. It's no secret that Friedgen does not like how Chris Turner performs in practice, and it's no secret that the Maryland fans do not like how Jordan Steffy tends to perform in games. The Terps caught fire last season when Turner took over following an injury to Steffy in the victory over Rutgers, but the two were dead even at the end of April, with Josh Portis a distant third.

Head coach relinquishing offensive control.  QB controversy with fans being on 1 clear side.  Every team we face is a mirror to our souls!

Yellow Fever:  I look at the Terrapins in the same way that I look at the Spartans.  I don't know much about them - though I'm pretty sure I hate them, because we hate everyone - and I'm reasonably confident we should beat the tar out of them.  As we previously discussed, the Terrapins have fallen off in recent years from the brief stint at the pinnacle of the ACC, with little reason they'll be able to reach those heights again anytime soon.  And just like Michigan State, a lack of NFL talent doesn't seem to be the problem.  The Terps churned out one of the NFL's great pass rushers in Shawne Merriman and the league's fastest (though underachieving) tight end in Vernon Davis, but haven't had much success to show for it.  Hell, they've even got a receiver being pushed as a first round talent in Darrius Heyward-Bey, but am I afraid?  Well, no.  The fact that I have no clue whatsoever who's going to be throwing to him kind of speaks to that.

Darriusheyward-bey_medium

Darrius Heyward-Bey : a reason to fear the turtle?  -  Image via images.athlonsports.com

ragnarok:  Yeah, Maryland is pretty anonymous to me, too.  I'll admit I can't name a single player currently on the roster, and all I saw of the Terps last year was part of the Emerald Bowl while I was having a few drinks at a bar somewhere.  But just because we've never heard of these guys doesn't necessarily mean they're not good, right?

TwistNHook:  I can't speak for the rest of you shmuckzoids, but I'm pretty sure I've heard of every good college football player ever.  I mean I'm an ESPN Insider!

CBKWit:  I remember Juan Dixon from a final four (national championship?) team.  Steve Blake, anyone?  Chris Wilcox sucked it up on the Sonics for a couple years.  Is this relevant at all?  No.  But I seem to remember hearing that Maryland basketball fans are some of the cruelest people on earth.  Whether or not this will translate to fans in a much larger stadium cheering on a much weaker team remains to be seen.  But don't be surprised if you hear absolutely cruel insults, like "Nasty Nate," or "Jahvid the Hut", or "Alex Mack is a little girl on Nickelodeon and not the best center in the country."  I feel sorry for our players already.

Although they seem very similar to our team in many ways, I think it says a lot that they're predicted to finish 5th out of 6th in their division, and the lowest that anyone is pegging us is about 4th out of 10.  Maybe we're in similar places right now, but it seems that people are giving Tedford the benefit of the doubt (he's definitely earned it), while perhaps Maryland is looked at as a program in decline.

HydroTech:  After giving some thought to this game, I think the game will be a very tough one.  Consider: we travel to Maryland and play at 12 pm (9 am for our players); we play a Maryland team that is 33-11 at home under Coach Friedgen; and we play against a pretty veteran team.  All this leads me to believe that this will be a tough game.

Ralph-friedgen-is-fit_medium

Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen.  Honesty, any joke I could insert here would be just too obvious.  -  Image via misterirrelevant.com

Let's first look at Maryland's offense.  Their QB position is a bit up in the air.  It appears as if there might be a battle for the starting spot between returning starter Chris Turner and former-Gator Josh Portis.  Turner threw for a very decent 1958 yards last year on 241 attempts (153 completions and 1958 yards).  That's about 8.12 yards per attempt and a 63.5% completion percentage which isn't too shabby at all.  Oddly enough though, Turner only threw 7 touchdowns against 7 INTs last year.  The Fridge didn't seem to be extremely happy or something because Turner got benched after starting 8 games.  Turner's numbers seem alright but I think most people might be expecting the once highly touted Josh Portis to win the starting job.  Perhaps Cal will be better off with Portis as the QB since he'll be less experienced than Turner.

Maryland loses their top two rushers from last year.  Both RBs last year ran for about 1700 yards on 400 attempts between them.  So Maryland will be breaking in a fairly inexperienced back whomever it is.  But while they are losing their top two rushers, they are returning their top two receivers.  The big man on campus that we Cal fans should be afraid of is junior WR Darrius Heyward-Bey.  This guy is a large 6'2" player with 4.23 speed - that makes him faster than THA1... not to mention he's taller and heavier than THA1.  Heyward-Bey had a decent season last year with 786 yards on 51 receptions (15.4 yard average) but only hit paydirt 3 times.  I suppose Syd will be matching up against Heyward-Bey come game time.  That should be an interesting battle to watch.

TwistNHook:  Hydro, can you wake me up when you are done talking?

CBKWit:  Shhhhhhh!  We're trying to learn here!

HydroTech:  In any case, I think the most intriguing stories to watch regarding the Terp offense are the QB battle and how often the Terps will try and get the ball to Hayward-Bey.  Perhaps the most worrisome story to think about is how often the Terps are going to run the ball.  Maryland averaged 41 attempts per game last year.  Some days they were pounded the rock for a rock solid average (4.0+ yards per carry), and other days they pounded the rock with poor averages (2.5-3.5 yards per carry).  To wit: last year against Wake Forest they pounded the rock 57 times(!!!) for 200 yards (3.5 yard average); 59 times for 239 yards against Rutgers (4.1 yard average); and to contrast with 39 carries for 89 yards against WVU (2.3 yard average) and 37 times for 92 yards against Florida State (2.5 yard average).  Basically, it seems as if Maryland is a run-first team who is willing to pound the rock even if it isn't getting great results (and will pound it even more if they are getting results).  Maryland should provide an exceptional test for our 3-4 defense on defending the run.

Speaking of the 3-4, while our 3-4 is getting put to the test against Maryland's tendency to run, our offense is going to be going up against Maryland's 3-4 defense.  The last time Cal faced a 3-4 defense was against Air Force last year in the bowl game.  We all know what happened that game - we blew up Air Force's secondary and zone coverages.  Now we'll have to see if we can do that again but against BCS quality players.  To wit: Terp MLB and senior Dave Philistin appears to be the stud of linebackers who tallied 124 tackles last year; SLB and senior Moise Fokou started all last year and logged 83 tackles; CB and senior Kevin Barnes has 4.45 speed and tallied 65 tackles in the secondary; and starting at FS for the Terps will probably be the very very highly touted transfer and former Southern Cal Trojan Antwine Perez.  These guys aren't your average Air Force cadets.  These guys can definitely put up a good fight for the Cal offense.

One final note, although I'm not entirely sure, I think Maryland plays a slightly different 3-4 defense than Cal does.  While Cal uses 4 true linebackers (Will, Mike, Sam, Buck), Maryland uses 3 linebackers and a DE/OLB tweener (Will, Mike, Sam, Leo).  So what does this mean for Cal?  A Leo is probably going to be more stout against the run than an OLB (such as a Sam or Will).  A Leo is going to be slower than an OLB but probably be physically bigger, heavier, and stronger.  Basically, a Leo is probably better than an OLB when defending the run but may not have the speed for being as effective in coverage as an OLB.  Sooo... perhaps run away from the Leo but pick on him with passes.  Perhaps.

ragnarok:  Going back a bit, what's with this Heyward-Bey character?  He's bigger AND faster than DeSean, yet he only had 3 touchdowns last year?!?  Is there something wrong with him?  Is the Terps offense that terrible?  Something's not right here.

(Leaves to do some internet research.)

OK, OK, here we go.  This article points out that Heyward-Bey is (or at least was) basically a track guy.  Couldn't corner, too-obvious body language.  Excellent on 'go' routes, pretty pedestrian anytime else.  Apparently, he's worked a lot on route running, which should make him a matchup nightmare, but glowing early practice reports claiming that a longtime underachiever is about to break out into stardom are so common as to be practically a cliché.  If this report is accurate, however, Syd will definitely have his hands full.

Yellow Fever:  I should probably mention that ragnarok and I will be in attendance.  Along with, I'm assuming, AndBears and BearsNecessity's new favorite for quarterback.

CBKWit:  What, I don't count any more?  I'll be there too.  East coast CGB party!

ragnarok:  Oh yeah, right...CBK's coming too...man, it must be tough being the new guy around here, huh?  No respect.  It's like being the 5th Beatle.

TwistNHook:  Wait, CBKWit is still around?  I thought we replaced him with his brother, after that great WSU analysis.  We could really use more critique of contemporary British theatre around here.

CBKWit:  Yeah Ragnarok, it can be tough.  Sometimes I just want to leave and take my hard hitting analysis relevant and punctual reporting forced Seinfeld and Big Lebowski quotes with me.  And Twist, are you actually making fun of someone for their off- topic tangents??  That's like Mark Mangino making fun of Ralph Friedgen for eating scheduling too many cupcakes.

TwistNHook:  Ok, prediction time!  4-2 Cal!  Tougher than expected game.  Go Bears!

Yellow Fever:  55-3.

HydroTech:  24-21 Cal.

ragnarok:  Close for a half, but I think the Bears pull away in the third quarter.  31-17 Cal.

RemorsefulBruinBabe:  26-20 Cal

CBKWit:  26?  Borrowing a page from the Twist playbook and banking on a safety, eh?  Gutsy move.  I'll try 24-17 Cal.  It seems that most of us are expecting a close victory, excepting YellowFever's optimism and Twist's...Twist, you know this is football and not baseball, right?  Football's the game with the oblong shaped ball, so it should be familiar to you.

Go Bears!

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