Clemson-Maryland: Should Tigers Fear the Turtle?

David BallingerContributor ISeptember 26, 2008

Clemson romped over SC State by an even higher than expected 54-0 score—but you’d never know it from reading the papers or by listening to the average Tiger fan.

We are still a dispirited bunch. Our team is hurting, both physically and mentally. News out of the practice camp is gloomy with injuries or more pleas to “get tough.”

You’d never know we were 3-1 and ranked 20th in the country, with our only loss to undefeated and overachieving Alabama (we’ll see how good they are against the SEC’s Big Guns, starting with Georgia).

I admit, it’s hard to enjoy snacking on NC State and El Cid after a thoroughly embarrassing performance in game one. But we’re still playing hungover. We have yet to regain our fire. “The Eye of the Tiger” has yet to become a glimmer in any of our players.

I am still looking for consistency and effort. I’m upbeat, yet dissatisfied.

Even the prospect of four straight home wins (no, you didn’t read that wrong) in the boisterous confines of Death Valley did little to shake those nagging feelings from me and, I suspect, the majority of our fans.

We’ve improved, for sure. But we’ve proven nothing—and we won’t until we utterly blow the lid off a quality opponent.

Here’s our chance. This weekend, the Fighting Tigers welcome the Terrapins of the University of Maryland to the House That Howard Built. About to enter the “meat” of its ACC contests, Clemson will find out real fast how much tougher it is versus a physical ball club.


This series has quietly become a bitter, nasty rivalry again after a few languishing years. Clemson leads 30-24-2 overall and has won 11 of the last 15 contests.

Don’t let the numbers fool you, however. From 2004-2006, each of our games was decided within the final three minutes, with the average margin of victory 2.7 points—meaning even in defeat, Maryland was a mere play away from turning the tables.

The Turtles, true to their namesake, started slow and sluggish. They dropped a shocker to Middle Tennessee State but rebounded with a dominant win over No. 23 California, followed by a 51-24 beating of Eastern Michigan.

Performance has been of the Jekyll-Hyde variety thus far. When they’re clicking, they’re clicking, but when they are not, they’re flatter than Jessica Simpson on a good night.

Again we’re facing a team that fields a powerful offensive line, with seniors anchoring every position save for right guard, which is held by junior Phil Costa. Dan Gronkowski will be a load to bring down at tight end, and Maryland usually excels at utilizing its tight ends.

At wide receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey is one bona fide playmaker who forces defenses to gameplan for him, not unlike how Clemson uses Jacoby Ford.

Sophomore tailback Da’Rel Scott is getting more press of late with his explosive running talent, and Chris Turner is more comfortable at QB now that his confidence has increased.

To win this game, the Tigers must take advantage of the Terrapins’ weaknesses on defense. They are not adept at rushing the QB, so a steady diet of pocket passes is vital.

They are hurting at defensive end and linebacker, which is good news for our wounded boys up front. They have also lost playmakers at cornerback and safety, so Cullen Harper needs to exploit that inexperience and hit some deep balls early on to set the tone.

Worried as I am about our offensive line (especially knowing we’ll be without David Smith and Jamarcus Grant, both of whom were playing in relief of starters), the current unit will have to stand up.

We need to roll Cullen out of the pocket more to make him a lesser target for blitzing defenders. Use Ford on the end-around to stretch out the defensive line. James Davis needs to have the game he had last year. C.J. Spiller should split time with Aaron Kelly on screens.

Look for Tyler Grisham and Durrell Barry to have breakout games.

Once lightly penciled in as a win, Maryland is no longer a gimme. I look for one drawn-out knuckle-duster with the prize going to the team that wants it most.

Clemson needs it most, I think, and on the strength of sheer talent and will, the Fighting Tigers grind one out and pound Maryland into turtle soup.

FINAL SCORE: Clemson 27, Maryland 20

That’s all for now. Be safe, and enjoy the game. GO TIGERS!!!