Clemson Tigers vs. Maryland Terrapins: Complete Game Preview
Last week’s results
No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) lost to No. 3 Florida State 51-14.
Maryland (5-2, 1-2 ACC) lost at Wake Forest 34-10.
How will Clemson rebound from the Florida State debacle?
The Tigers entered the ACC’s fourth-ever Top Five Matchup, and perhaps the ACC’s biggest game ever, feeling pretty good about themselves. They’d won their last Top 10 matchups against Georgia and LSU, and a win over Florida State would cement them in the BCS National Championship conversation. Instead, Dabo Swinney’s bunch spent this week trying to figure out what went wrong following a 51-14 embarrassment, the program’s worst home loss since 1998.
Now, the question for Swinney is this: how does he gets his team refocused to face a Maryland team that is reeling following the loss of its two best receivers (Stefon Diggs and Deon Long) to season-ending broken legs?
“The biggest thing is Clemson. Let’s get back to work. Our guys are eager to play again and I think that's a good sign,” Swinney said. “I think any time you lose a ballgame you wish you could play again tomorrow.
“That’s one thing about football that’s tough. You have to wait a whole week to go out prove that you are better than you showed last time out. It’s not like baseball or basketball where you can come out the next day and have another chance. I’m proud of our team for how they have responded. Everybody is taking accountability and we just have to take great pride in our preparation.”
Senior right tackle Brandon Thomas said the rebound process began in the locker room following the game, and that Clemson can still challenge for a BCS at-large berth.
“Right then and there, we needed to let the young guys know that the season’s not over,” Thomas said. “Don’t put your head down. Keep your head up. You fought hard, just didn’t go your way. The season’s not over."
Can Clemson’s offense get on track?
Over the last two weeks, Clemson has amassed just 28 points, which includes a Vic Beasley fumble return touchdown. Florida State outgained Clemson 565-326 and offensive coordinator Chad Morris said his unit was “consistently inconsistent,” struggling to run its base offense and had only one player playing well: Thomas.
Swinney and Morris stressed going “back to the basics and working on fundamentals."
“We’ll major in the minors this week,” Swinney said. “Stands, starts, footwork. Treat them like they don’t know anything. Sometimes you have to do that to get consistency. We have a lot of guys who know a lot about football and sometimes they take little things for granted. The little things lead to the big things. When we get the little things correct, we can do big things.”
Who will play quarterback for Maryland?
C.J. Brown led Maryland to a 5-0 start but was knocked out of the Terrapins’ 63-0 loss to Florida State with a chest injury. Backup Caleb Rowe threw for 332 yards in a 27-26 win over Virginia, but Brown started last week at Wake Forest. He left with a concussion, and Rowe threw for 207 yards and a touchdown. This week, Maryland coach Randy Edsall told The Baltimore Sun Brown wasn’t fully healthy and has declined to name a starting quarterback. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said both quarterbacks are similar in their running and throwing styles, but it is always preferable for a defense to know exactly who they’ll be going against on Saturday afternoon. Edsall holds all the cards, in that sense.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Place: Byrd Stadium, College Park, Md.
Radio: Clemson and Maryland radio networks (regional)
Spread: Clemson -13 via vegasinsider.com
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.
Clemson Keys to Victory
Play smarter offense
Last week marked the first time in Chad Morris’ two-plus year tenure that Clemson did not have a play of 20-plus yards, but the Tigers’ problems run deeper than big plays. After committing four turnovers in their first five games, the Tigers have committed six in their last two. Morris and coach Dabo Swinney stressed a back-to-basics approach this week, and holding onto the ball will be crucial.
“It’s consistency in performance, attention to details,” Swinney said. “Intelligence should be a competitive advantage. We’re intelligent, but we’re not playing intelligent right now. It’s a frustrating thing for me. Let’s retool those guys and focus on basics. We’re doing a lot of calculus and we need to go back and do arithmetic.”
Find a second receiving option
Junior Sammy Watkins has regained the form of his breakout freshman year, catching 44 passes for 650 yards with five touchdowns. But Clemson has yet to establish a true second option in the receiving game for Boyd to target.
Junior Adam Humphries has 25 catches for 331 yards and two scores, while fellow junior Martavis Bryant has 25 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns. However, both have been inconsistent from game to game. Humphries had three catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns at Syracuse, but has three games with two catches for 20 yards and no touchdowns combined. Bryant has only one game with more than four receptions in seven tries.
If Boyd can establish a consistent second option, it’ll help him while also opening up coverages for Watkins downfield.
Stop the spread
Two years ago, Maryland’s spread offense and quarterback C.J. Brown ran up and down the field on Clemson’s defense. The Terrapins held an 18-point second-half lead before Clemson rallied for a 56-45 win, but Kevin Steele’s defense was totally unable to stop the spread. This year, either Brown or Caleb Rowe will pilot the offense, which lost some punch last week when top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long were lost to broken legs.
However, this should still be a crucial test to see how Brent Venables’ defense rebounds from last week’s ugly effort that saw Florida State roll up 51 points, a Memorial Stadium record for a visitor.
Maryland Keys to Victory
Turn over the Tigers
After committing just five turnovers in its first four games, Clemson has become careless with the ball, committing six turnovers in two weeks. Last week against Florida State, the Seminoles cashed in a pair of early fumbles for two touchdowns and a 17-0 lead that Clemson never recovered from.
Maryland has forced 13 turnovers on the season; tied for fifth in the ACC. Forcing the Tigers into more early mistakes would certainly raise some doubt in Tajh Boyd’s mind after the last two weeks.
Find some receiving options
The broken legs of wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long robbed Maryland of its top two passing game options. Diggs and Long combined for 66 catches for 1,068 yards and four touchdowns.
Following tailback Brandon Ross (14 receptions, 162 yards), the next-best receivers are Levern Jacobs (13 catches, 245 yards, 1 TD) and tight end Dave Stinebaugh (11 receptions, 162 yards, 2 TDs). Wideouts Amba Etta-Tawo, Malcolm Culmer and Nigel King will be counted upon heavily to replace Diggs and Long’s production.
Stop the run
Clemson’s hurry-up no-huddle offense works best when it establishes the run. The Tigers have struggled to do that this season: their 165.4 rushing yards per game ranks ninth in the ACC. Maryland has stout run defense: the Terrapins are allowing 123.4 rushing yards per game, second-best in the ACC and 27th nationally. If Maryland can make Clemson’s offense more one-dimensional, it stands a better chance of pulling off the upset.
Clemson Players to Watch
Senior QB Tajh Boyd
Boyd had one of the worst games of his career against Florida State, completing 17-of-37 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. It was the second-lowest yardage total in his career behind an 83-yard effort at South Carolina in November 2011. The Terrapins’ defense allows 230.7 passing yards per game, 11th in the ACC. This looks like an excellent bounce-back opportunity.
Junior WR Sammy Watkins
Watkins had perhaps the best game of his college career in his last trip to Maryland in 2011, rolling up a Clemson record 345 all-purpose yards with three touchdowns, including an 89-yard kick return score. The Tigers rallied for a 56-45 win, erasing an 18-point third-quarter deficit. Watkins has re-established himself as Clemson’s top receiving threat and would love a repeat performance in his final trip to Byrd Stadium.
Junior MLB Stephone Anthony
Anthony is establishing himself as one of the ACC’s top linebackers. He leads Clemson in tackles, with 71, and has 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, both second on the Tigers’ defense. He’ll be a force no matter which quarterback the Terrapins start Saturday.
Maryland Players to Watch
Sophomore TB Brandon Ross
Ross has emerged as one of the most important offensive players on Maryland’s roster. He has 458 rushing yards and four touchdowns and averages 5.0 yards per carry. With the season-ending broken legs to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, he’ll be leaned on upon even more heavily the rest of the season.
Sophomore QB Caleb Rowe
Rowe grew up in Landrum, S.C., less than an hour from Clemson’s campus. He has shown flashes while spelling starter C.J. Brown, throwing for 332 yards in a win over Virginia. Like Brown, he is capable of running and passing effectively. If Brown’s injuries sideline him Saturday, he’ll be forced into a big role in the Terps’ offense.
Senior LB Marcus Whitfield
Whitfield is one of the top pass rushers in the ACC with 6.5 sacks (fourth in the ACC) and 9.5 tackles for loss for a total of 89 yards. He is a dangerous force who Clemson’s unsettled offensive line must account for at all times.
What They Are Saying
“I think we’ve got guys that can do it. I don’t think we have guys lacking in that area. We need to be more consistent. We have to be confident in one another and trusting each other on the field. That’s one of the big things. As much as you prepare and practice, coaches aren’t on the field with you. You have to have trust that you can step on the field and keep on gaining.” —Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, on finding offensive consistency.
“Let’s get back to being fundamentally sound. I would like to say it is one thing but it¹s not. It is like a symptom and we have to cure it. We have to find 11 guys that will do that consistently. None of that matters, though, if you don’t take care of the football. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We have gotten a bad little run going over the last couple ballgames, particularly the last one. You can¹t beat anybody when you turn the ball over four times.
“You can’t win and you certainly can’t beat a team like Florida State when you make those types of mistakes.” —Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, on how to cure offensive woes.
“They do a lot of different things where you have to be very sharp, alert and cognizant with where they move people around. They don’t put all of the receivers in the same place and try to create mismatches. So what you’ve got to do is be very sound and solid. We can’t let them see the same things happen in a row. This is an offense that is very dynamic at 487 yards a game. This is why you come out and play here; to go out and meet the challenges that lie ahead.” – Maryland coach Randy Edsall, on Clemson’s offense.
For weeks, analysis of Clemson’s schedule centered around Maryland as a potential pitfall following an emotional game with Florida State. Thanks to the Seminoles’ 51-14 blowout of the Tigers, the question changed. Now, there are questions about whether Clemson will be emotionally ready or use the game as the beginning of a bounce-back. The Terrapins are hurting offensively following the loss of their top two receivers to broken legs, and only Randy Edsall knows if C.J. Brown or Caleb Rowe will start at quarterback. That uncertainty combined with Clemson’s need for redemption should result in a comfortable Clemson win. Clemson 44, Maryland 24.
Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace