Cal remembers 'ugly' trip to Maryland
September, 1, 2009
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
When Jahvid Best infamously spewed his breakfast onto the Byrd Stadium turf at Maryland last September, it pretty much summed up the day for California.
Cal, then ranked 23rd, sleepwalked into College Park and got knocked loopy, the final 35-27 count not doing justice to the shockingly lopsided nature of the game -- it was 28-6 in the third quarter.
"For the first three quarters, we didn't play Cal football," Bears linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "It was ugly and left a real bad taste in our mouths."
Literally, at least in Best's case.
So, obviously, there's a revenge angle for the No. 12 Bears as they welcome the Terrapins for a return visit to Strawberry Canyon on Saturday.
Even more than last fall, the matchup seems to favor Cal, see a 21-point spread.
For one, Maryland only welcomes back nine starters. The Terrapins, most particularly, are rebuilding both lines.
The primary concern for Mohamed and the Bears defense will be All-ACC running back Da'Rel Scott and senior quarterback Chris Turner, who seems to save his best stuff for nationally ranked foes.
Yet the biggest test for Cal is recognizing that, if the goal is a special season, every game matters, which means treating every foe with respect.
Last year, it seemed as though the Bears read that the Terrapins had only beaten FCS Delaware 14-7 and had lost to Middle Tennessee and took the game lightly. They paid for that.
Most 2009 projections have the Terrapins finishing at or near the bottom of the ACC's Atlantic Division, while Cal is being touted as the Pac-10's top challenger to USC.
Though the Bears have fallen short of high expectations a number of times in recent years -- it's worth noting it wasn't too long ago when the program had no expectations -- Mohamed said he and his teammates are embracing the hype.
"We have our sights set on the Pac-10 [title]," Mohamed said, "and maybe even higher."
The defeat at Maryland also set up a pattern for the 2008 season. Cal was one team at home -- the Bears went 7-0 in Memorial Stadium -- and another on the road, where it was 1-4, the lone victory coming at woeful Washington State.
With road trips to Minnesota and Oregon back-to-back before September is over, the nation will learn fairly quickly as to whether Cal deserves its preseason hype.
"I don't want to say that we are [better at home] because you have to be able to play home and road to be a good football team, but last year we were undefeated at home," Mohamed said. "So, yeah, it does give us a little bit of an extra boost, an extra advantage. But that's definitely something we need to work on if we are going to be successful. We have to get better on the road."
Mohamed, though not officially a returning starter, will be an anchor for what could be an elite defense. The Bears welcome back eight starters -- not including Mohamed -- from a unit that ranked 23rd in the nation in scoring defense (19.9 ppg) and 26th in total defense (315.2 yards per game). The defensive line and secondary return intact.
Three linebackers need to be replaced, but Mohamed saw extensive playing time last fall and sophomores Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt might actually give the Bears an upgrade inside.
The 6-foot-3, 237-pound Mohamed, in fact, could end up All-Pac-10. He was third on the team last year with 87 tackles and he added six tackles for a loss -- three sacks -- three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
"I'm not the biggest guy out there," he said. "I'm kind of a skinny linebacker. Speed is my biggest thing."
The Bears want to play fast and get out of the gate fast against Maryland. After the fans and prognosticators have talked the talk for Cal, it's time for the Bears to walk the walk.
"It's been cool to hear what people are thinking," Mohamed said. "But at the same time, it's just hype and buzz. It doesn't mean much until you actually go out there and prove it."