Maryland shows its good side against Cal

The Baltimore Sun

There's probably a perfectly rational explanation for all this. Maryland struggles against a Football Championship Subdivision team in its home opener and loses to Middle Tennessee State. This is not normally the kind of past performance that leads you to believe the Terps will throttle their first Top 25 opponent.

Except that it's Maryland, a program that generally defies standard football logic. Ralph Friedgen seems to lead his team in whatever direction its opponent is supposed to be headed.

In this case, the Terps put a pretty solid beating on a Pacific-10 contender that scored 104 points in its first two games. California isn't going to be confused with Southern California, but it also isn't going to be confused with any team from Tennessee that feels it has to tell you up front that it's not on either the right side or the left side of the state. If you're looking for a good comparison, it might be that well-regarded Tennessee Volunteers team that traveled cross-country two weeks ago and got its Bowl Championship Series hopes dashed on the West Coast for the second year in a row.

The Golden Bears were a good team with an explosive offense when they got off the plane at BWI Marshall Airport on Friday, but they showed up for yesterday's Breakfast Bowl looking as if they were still on Pacific Daylight Time. Just remember how you felt at 9 a.m. on Saturday when you were in college.

They went three and out on their first possession, and the Terrapins drove right down the field to score on Da'Rel Scott's 24-yard run. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley threw an interception on the second snap of the next possession, and Scott scored again to give the Terps a 14-0 lead before seven minutes had run off the clock. Lest anyone forget, they needed the whole game to score 14 points against Delaware and Middle Tennessee, so it was quite an uplifting start.

Meanwhile, the team that scored 38 points against Michigan State and 66 against Washington State could not get into the end zone in the first half. Cal managed a couple of field goals and ended the half with kicker David Seawright clanking a potential third off the left upright as time expired. I'm pretty sure Bears coach Jeff Tedford was wondering at that point whether he was seeing the same Maryland team he had been studying in the game films all week.

"No, I'd have to say not," Tedford said afterward. "I'd have to say we looked at them on tape and we knew they had a lot of ability. I don't think the first two weeks they played to their potential. I think they had a fire lit under them after last week's loss and they were very focused."

Give Tedford credit. He had a fistful of alibis, and he didn't use any of them. He could have cited the soggy field or the heat and humidity. He could have cited the time zone as easily as the Terps' zone coverage, but he totally discounted the impact of the coast-to-coast travel or the television-friendly noon start.

"Absolutely none," he said. "Our kids were full of energy in the locker room. We were up and bright-eyed. ... I don't think it had anything to do with the coast-to-coast trip. No excuses about coming east. We were ready to go. No excuses about that."

Maybe the Terps were just tired of playing beneath their own expectations. Fridge can tell you all he wants that a win over Delaware is still a win, but when the Terps followed it up with that loss at Middle Tennessee, they put themselves in a position where they had a ton to prove the next time they took the field in front of the home crowd. It was just a bonus that when they proved they can run with the big dogs, they did it in front of a national cable television audience on ESPN.

Friedgen didn't shy away from that when he addressed his players during Friday night's team meeting.

"I kind of challenged them last night at our meeting, and in the pre-game period they were really different," Friedgen said. "There wasn't much emotion, and I thought they were really tight. In fact, I even cracked a few jokes before the game, which is uncharacteristic of me. They came out ready to play, and they played with their hearts. That's what I asked them to do."

He also challenged them to show the world "who you are and what you're made of."

Maybe they did that yesterday, but it's still fair to wonder who they are and what's inside. The only thing we know for sure is that the Terps are capable of just about anything - good, bad or somewhere in between.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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