Bears Find Redemption With Thrashing of Terrapins
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Category: Sports > Fall > Football
In the first quarter of Saturday's season opener against Maryland, the Cal football team's offense did what everybody already knew it could do: giveJahvid Best the ball and score. From that point on, the Bears put the rest of their new and improved offensive weapons on display.
When the final whistle blew at 10:16 p.m., No. 12 Cal had turned a quest for redemption into trip after trip to the end zone, defeating the Terrapins 52-13 in front of 62,367 at Memorial Stadium.
Best rushed for 137 yards, but only carried the ball 10 times. Quarterback Kevin Riley connected with nine different receivers. Five different players scored touchdowns.
An offense that last season was labeled one-dimensional burst onto the 2009 scene as widely potent.
"We have the most explosive player in the nation right now," Bears receiver Marvin Jones said. "But we want to show we can also pass."
So they did. With Cal (1-0) leading 14-3 following a pair of touchdowns by Best, Riley commandeered a 31-0 run that included three scores through the air and had fans leaving the stadium before the fourth quarter.
Two of those passing touchdowns showed Riley's poise-a 39-yard strike over the middle to Nyan Boateng from a collapsing pocket and a 3-yard dart to tight end Skylar Curran after Riley rolled out to the right and shed a potential sack. The other showed touch-a 42-yard bomb to Jones that the receiver called "perfect." Both traits went missing from Riley's performance at times last season, but after completing just one pass in the first quarter on Saturday he seemed to hit his stride the rest of the way.
"When we got going I thought Kevin was really sharp," coach Jeff Tedford said. "I thought Kevin made good decisions. He didn't force the football."
Riley finished the day with 17 completions on 26 attempts for 298 yards, and set a career high with four touchdowns. He connected with Jones and Tucker three times each, Boateng and Best twice. He also showed a willingness to throw the ball up and let his receivers go after it -- all three of Jones' receptions, and one of Tucker's, were made under tight coverage.
"Everybody knows we can run the ball with the backs we have and the line we have, and they're always going to make big plays," Riley said. "A lot of close games, it's going to come down to if we can make plays in the passing game, and tonight we did some good things."
This, however, was not one of those close games. The separation started early, when Best took the first handoff of the Bears' second possession 73 yards for a touchdown, dancing the final 20 or so yards around a fine downfield block being thrown by Tucker.
"It was just great blocking up front, I was able to find the seam up the B-gap, just saw a hole and started running," Best said. "Thank God that Tuck was there still trying to block. Otherwise it wouldn't have been a touchdown."
Cal then forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and, after a 20-yard pass from Riley to receiver Marvin Jones, Best found the end zone again, this time leaping over the pile from the 2-yard line.
It was the kind of quick start that Maryland (0-1) had against the Bears in their meeting last year, when the Terrapins went up 14-0 in the first quarter, led 28-6 in the third and eventually derailed Cal's promising young season.
"Last year we went down there and felt like we didn't play Cal football," Best said. "So coming out here this year we wanted them to know what Cal football was all about. We wanted to jump on them early."
From the beginning, the Bears exploited a Maryland defense that was supposed to cause fits with its aggressiveness. Best broke off runs of 73 and 40 yards. Jones, Tucker andBoateng each had catches of 39 or more yards.
"Some of that's feast or famine," Tedford said of the Terrapins' defensive philosophy. "When you're going to live by the blitz, you're going to stack everybody up there and if you break it you're going to go on a long way."
Maryland's offense, on the other hand, was bottled up for most of the game, with the exception of tailback Da'Rel Scott's 39-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. It was Cal putting the pressure on Terrapins quarterback Chris Turner, recording six sacks, forcing a pair of fumbles and holding Maryland to a 4-of-17 conversion rate on third down.
Defensive end Ernie Owusu had three of those sacks and just missed a fourth, although that one was finished off by linebacker Mike Mohamed.
It was all part of what the Bears did this year that they did not do against Maryland in 2008-what Tedford simply termed, across the board, as "making plays."
"Up front we made plays, in the passing game we made plays, on special teams we made plays, defensively we made some nice plays," he said. "When that starts happening, we have the ability and the potential to score a lot of points."
Contact Matt Kawahara at email@example.com.
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