So, there are a lot of reasons for why we lost today.
Let's start with the refs. They certainly didn't help. Bad calls: (1) Holding on Teofilo later in the game when he wasn't holding; (2) facemask call on Rulon when there was no facemask; (3) non-call safety depriving Cal of 2 points and another possession; (4) no false start call on Maryland late in the 4th quarter when Cal was trying to get the ball back... I'm sure there were others.
But we can't just blame the refs. In fact, as bad as some of the calls were today, the team itself played worse than the refereeing.
Let's start with the many reasons why:
(1) Bad OL blocking. Some might blame Jahvid Best. Afterall, he only had 25 yards and a 2.5 yard average. But astute fans would have noticed nothing was wrong with Best but instead the problem was with the OL. There was nary a sliver of daylight for Best today.
(2) Riley's slow start. Today's game was a big test for Riley - starting a somewhat big away game with a hostile crowd in the early morning. Plus, we wanted to see Riley bounce back from his overthrow-athon last game. Well, unfortunately, Riley started out slow. A few overthrows meant zero chance of conversions.
(3) Young WRs. You know, it's always hard to critique the WRs because they're always off the screen and thus you can't see them, but with a young group of WRs they almost always have a few problems with running routes, reading defenses, and in plain language: just getting open. Today was probably one of those days when the WRs were just getting blanketed and couldn't really break free.
(4) On defense, we couldn't stop their basic power run scheme. I mean, they KILLED us with their basic power run pulling guard scheme. Our defensive guys weren't flowing to the ball, they were getting picked up by the blockers... ugly all around.
(5) Zone coverage. Our zones were getting pickd apart pretty darn well today. But there's not a lot we can do really other than get a faster pass rush, and perhaps have better anticipation on passes. Because we got picked apart in zones necessarily mean we should switch to man? Not really. There seems to be a huge dislike of zone coverage by many Cal fans. The reasoning seems to be that zone coverages don't work. Well, today they didn't, but zone does work and has in the past in previous years. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if more than 50% of our INTs in the past 3 years were from zone coverages rather than man coverages. Anyways, we did use man coverages today too and Maryland threw a touchdown on us when we did. Both types of coverage work and sometimes they don't work either.
(6) Pass rush. Well, we seemed to have a few rare plays of decent pressure, and even a few sacks, but for the most part we just couldn't seem to get Chris Turner rattled. He was 15-19 for the day and threw 2 TDs. Plain and simple, Turner played like a stud today. He threw some great passes and played tough.
(7) Run defense. Did I already touch on this? Well, I'll say again... Maryland's runningbacks averaged 4.6 and 6.3 yards per carry. Holy hell. 4.6 is good. 6.3 is reaching Marshawn-esque. Good god we were getting gashed. Sort of reminded me of the first quarter of the Armed Forces Bowl last year.
(8) Weather. I'm not a big fan of the whole heat and humidity argument - that our players aren't used to the heat and we were shocked by it or something and we got our panties in a bunch because the humidity was 80% or something. I mean, yes, it has an effect but I think the weather was pretty minimal in our loss today. Instead, I think the...
(9) Time change was a bigger factor. Tedford flew out the team on Friday after supposedly trying to acclimate the team to east coast time here in CA. Frankly, I didn't like this decision. I would rather fly out the team on Thursday. One of Tedford's reasons was that he doesn't like going out early because there just seems to be too much dead time. Well, I'd rather have too much dead time than having players not acclimated for the time change. The players seemed a little dreary in the first half. In contrast, it didn't seem like it was until the second half when we were getting our butts kicked for a good 1.5 hours that the team started to show a little life, and energy.
(10) Coverage sacks & bad sacks. So we gave up like 6 or 7 sacks today I think. Some were "coverage sacks" meaning that the QB has to hold on to the ball longer than he should due to the fact that the defense has all the WRs covered and thus is sacked. I think there were clearly 3-4 coverage sacks this game. I think Riley has to sort of learn that the ball has to be gone by a certain time. This is one aspect of QBing that Tedford emphasizes (I know myself since I heard him preaching getting the ball out on time all the time in practices).
On the other hand, Cal clearly had some plain sacks given up due to getting beat on the line. Most noticeably, I think we were getting beat at RG and LT. Most especially on the blind side, Teofilo seemed to be having a really tough time dealing with Maryland's RE. Overall, pass blocking was not good.
(11) Riley vs. Good Defense. I wrote this in our Previewing the Season: Maryland post earlier this season:
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.
Well, the big point I was trying to make was that Maryland's defense has some pretty good players on it and it would be interesting to see how Riley (especially) would perform against a better defense than the Air Force defense. Riley carved up Air Force pretty bad but the AF defenders weren't half the players that Maryland has on defense. Anyways, Riley and the WRs seemed to have a much tougher time against Maryland's better defense.
The positives. Look, let's try and be positive. Today was a bad game, but most of our expectations of us blowing out Maryland was due to Maryland sucking it up their past two games rather than because of our own team. We knew we were a decent team that performed very very well last week but we also were playing WSU who is as bad as Duke.
So my point is that if it weren't for Maryland sucking it up the past two weeks, we'd have expectations that this game would have been close. After Maryland lost to Middle Tennessee State last week, they came out with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. They looked energized at pre-game and brought a better game to the table than they did last week.
Anyways, back to the positives:
(1) Riley did get into a groove. It took him nearly 3 quarters but he finally did. So, it's not like he played 4 quarters of mediocre play. It was like 1 quarter of sub-par play, 2 quarters of okay play, and 1 quarter of above average play. In the end, Riley was 33 out of 58 for the day (56.9%) which isn't great or good - more like "eh."
(2) The 4th quarter was good passing practice. Nothing is quite like a real game against a real defense. Being down and having to pass every play was good practice for Riley and the WRs. In the future, if Cal is down again and needs to pass to comeback, I'm glad we'll have some prior experience.
(3) I'm trying to say something positive about the defense but I'm not sure I can. They just didn't seem to elevate their play later in the 4th quarter. I know they were trying when the offense started putting up points but they just gave up another rushing touchdown right off the bat after our first onside kick.
(4) Riley's leadership. Okay, this is possibly the biggest benefit of today. On the sidelines, Riley could clearly be seen pumping up his teammates, and trying to rally the troops. That's what we need. We need that Brett Favre kind of guy (without all the interceptions) who can rally the troops, spark a comeback, and inspire hope.
Anyways, these are my post game thoughts.
Yes, today sucked but I don't think we need to panic. We all thought Maryland was worse than they were and we were wrong. They played down to their opponents the first few games and we got surprised by them early and were affected by the time change.
Keep positive. The sky is not falling.