Revisiting My Five Burning Questions: Cal Vs. Maryland
It's safe to say that the junior quarterback answered a lot of critics on Saturday night, completing 17-of-26 for 298 yards and four touchdowns.
While Jahvid Best did spot him a two-touchdown lead, it was nice to see Riley shake off some early jitters (including a 4-of-11 start and a couple of overthrows) and get noticeably better as the game went on.
Rather than let the Terrapins back in the game after two consecutive field goals, Riley connected on eight of his next nine to lead Cal on two scoring drives and blew the game open in the second quarter.
Both drives ended in touchdown passes, to TE Skylar Curran and WO Nyan Boateng.
Riley also showed impressive mobility in the pocket, as he dodged a would-be sack to get the ball off to Curran. Nate Longshore would likely not have kept that play alive.
Coming into the season, one of the team's biggest question marks surrounded the Bears' signal caller. He certainly turned some heads, and changed some minds.
Just who were these Terps?
Last year, it was hard to know what to expect with Maryland, but that was not the case Saturday night. The Terps came in as underdogs and were decidedly overmatched, as the biggest team concerns heading into 2009—inexperience in the trenches—proved true.
The offensive line lost 115 combined starts and returned just 19 between Phil Costa and Bruce Campbell. The defensive front came in green, as well.
Up front, Maryland's line was beat for six sacks and didn't create to many running lanes, either.
When Chris Turner wasn't laying in the backfield, there were major momentum-killing penalties.
Case in point: After Cal's second score, Torrey Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards, but a Maryland penalty during the drive forced the Terps to settle for a field goal.
And on Maryland's second possession, a 3rd-and-1 turned into a 3rd-and-16 after consecutive flags, leading to a punt.
When the defensive line wasn't giving up a 73-yard run to Best, it was giving up five or six yard chunks regularly.
This is not to say the Terps can't improve throughout the year, especially in the ACC, with a veteran quarterback and a solid running back duo—they just need to be given a better chance to succeed than they were tonight.
Did the Bears ground Maryland's rushing attack?
Making the opponent play from behind from the get-go (as Maryland did to Cal to take Best out of the game in 2008) certainly helped the Bears.
But the defense was solid against the Terps on Saturday, allowing just over three yards per rush and racking up 11 tackles for a loss.
Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett showed flashes, especially on Scott's 39-yard touchdown run, but they were few and far between (and it was 45-6 before Scott's score) behind a young offensive line.
Cal's new linebackers were impressive, particularly sophomore Mychal Kendricks, who led the team with 12 stops; if they continue to perform like this come conference play, watch out.
Did Cal's receivers make a statement?
The WO's made a solid first impression in 2009, against a Maryland secondary that was the most experienced part of the team's defense.
Marvin Jones certainly lived up to the hype, with a 74-yard performance and a major hand in two Bears scores.
His 20-yard reception set up Jahvid Best's plunge into the end zone, and then the sophomore delivered on a difficult 42-yard touchdown reception.
Verran Tucker also had a solid season debut, continuing to be Cal's leader in acrobatic catches, as he adjusted to snag in a 39-yard Riley pass that was a bit high.
There was no one who emerged as the go-to guy (three receptions was the high), but that was due in large part to the big early lead, and to Riley spreading the ball out among nine different pass-catchers.
With tougher tests ahead, though, it will be interesting to see who becomes the most dependable target.
Did those big Bears up front gel?
Jahvid Best's 73-yard scamper to open up the scoring was not just a Heisman statement; it announced that the Cal offensive line is ready for a big year in 2009, even without Alex Mack.
A runner like Best doesn't need much room to break free, but the boys up front ploughed the way for 185 yards between him and Shane Vereen.
Perhaps more importantly, they allowed just two sacks (compared to the five allowed at College Park last year) and committed no penalties (the line was flagged for three last year, totaling 30 yards).
Granted, the performance came against a less-than-stellar Maryland defensive front, but Saturday night should give the group a lot of confidence going into tougher tests like Oregon and USC.
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