Clemson vs Maryland Postgame Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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Coaches typically do not like to hear their players guaranteeing wins, especially against a conference opponent that beat you in your place the year before.


Tommy Bowden said he did not mind James Davis? comment early last week. In fact, he said he liked the idea of his junior running back stepping up his leadership role by promising a victory against Maryland.


For a little more than a quarter, it looked like Davis was going to be forced to eat his words, which often seems to be the case when players make such statements. But his teammates accepted the challenge and took control of the game in the second quarter as they cruised to a 30-17 victory.


And even though Bowden was impressed with the result, he intimated in his post game comments that he hopes Davis chooses to be a little less audible, at least with the media, in the future.


OFFENSE


I was a little surprised to see Clemson come out trying to run the ball. The offensive line has struggled all year against the better teams on its schedule ? things did not look much brighter when Chris McDuffie left with an injury on the third drive - and Maryland has historically been pretty good against the run.


The passing game has been good all year, even when the Tigers? receivers had a bad day against Georgia Tech, and I assumed they would use the pass to set up the run.


Instead, the offensive line had its best game of the season as it paved the way for James Davis and C.J. Spiller. Both backs finished the day with over 100 yards and the team accumulated 249 yards of rushing.


Thomas Austin looks to have settled in nicely at center after getting his shotgun snaps under control, although there were a few on Saturday that looked like they almost got away.


His size and physical nature of play have help solidify the position by allowing less penetration. And much to my surprise, he has looked very agile on the plays that require him to pull.


Barry Humphries, who was replaced by Austin after struggling through the first part of the season, played guard for the second consecutive week. Because of McDuffie?s injury, Humphries logged 76 reps and looked like a totally different player than when he was at center.


Maybe it is that split second he now has to fire out of his stance because he is not snapping the ball, or maybe he just feels more comfortable at guard. Whatever the reason, he played lower and, as a result, was more physical at the point of attack.


I have also been impressed with Barry Richardson over the last few weeks. I have been pretty critical of him over the last year-and-a-half, and rightfully so, but it appears he is finally beginning to play up to his potential. He has not been reaching and leaning as much because he has been moving his feet much better and increased his aggressiveness.


The line as a whole performed better this week because they were aggressive, but the biggest difference in their play was they sustained blocks. There were a number of instances in which it looked like the backs would be stopped for little or no gain, but the line continued to drive and holes opened up.


As well as the line blocked, a lot of the credit for the success in the ground game needs to be given to the receivers. It may have been the best blocking performance by that group since the days of Danny Ford.


Receivers do not need to be nearly as physical with their blocks. A lot of times all they need to do force a defender to pick a side and remain engaged, almost as if they were sitting a moving pick in basketball. They did an excellent job of that and even some of the reserves, like La?Donte Harris and Xavier Dye, had key blocks that sprung some plays.


The all-around effort by the receivers, be it blocking or fighting for that extra yardage, has been very promising.


Davis and Spiller had their best game of the season as a duo. Spiller finally had some big runs by making something out of nothing. He was more comfortable running inside than he has been all year, and he also did a better job of reading his blocks on the outside and making the appropriate cuts.


I do not think enough can be said about the performance James Davis had. He punished tacklers most of the day and showed that added burst he has seemingly gained since last season.


However, the aspect that contributed the most to his production was his patience and ability to see the field. He allowed holes to develop and did an excellent job of setting up some of his runs that broke to the outside.


Unlike some less polished backs, Davis always plants on his outside foot and makes his cut without losing a step. By that, I mean he makes a break off his right foot if he is going to the left and vice versa. As simple as that sounds, many backs who do not have as much God-given talent find it hard to do, which is why you will see them stumble or fall when making a cut.


Cullen Harper turned in another performance that has almost become ?ho-hum.? He was 20-of-26 for 179 yards and two touchdowns. The protection by the line gave him time to make his reads and see the field all day.


His throw to Aaron Kelly on second-and 14 that was caught at the one-yard line was a NFL-caliber toss. He also hit Kelly on a slant for a first down and Palmer for another pickup that moved the chains when there was very little room for error.


DEFENSE


Despite being bitten by the injury bug across the offensive line, Vic Koenning was worried about how well his defense would do against Maryland. Ralph Friedgen coached teams have given the Tigers fits over the years with their strong running and play-action packages.


That was not the case on Saturday.


After giving up a field goal on a 12-play, 59-yard drive on the Terps? first possession, the Tigers settled in and stuffed Maryland until late in the game. They only mustered 69 yards of offense in the remainder of the first half and 21 during the third quarter.


The front seven did an excellent job against the run, giving up just 97 yards the entire game against a team with two excellent backs ? Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball. Twelve of those yards came via a fake punt in the third quarter.


Koenning continued to tweak his rotation in the middle by moving Jamie Cumbie and Phillip Merling inside in certain situations. The responsibilities on the inside were not made any easier when Rashaad Jackson was injured on the first drive of the game.


As well as the front four did against the run, they are still struggling to generate any type of pass rush. Clemson did get pressure throughout the game, but most of it came as a result of blitzes. It has been a sore spot for the defense all year and will eventually come back to bite them if they do not get it solved.


Courtney Vincent had a monster game against the run. He continually blew up the fullback at least a yard deep in the backfield on isolation plays, one of which led to a huge fourth down stop in the second quarter that gave Clemson excellent field position and led to a touchdown.


Tramaine Billie was very active all day. He had at least one sack and forced Maryland quarterback Chris Turner to throw it away or rush throws on several occasions. He also played well in space and had a number of key open field tackles.


Other than a blown coverage that led to a 43-yard gain early in the fourth quarter, the secondary may have had their best game of the season as a unit.


Chris Chancellor forced an incompletion with a tremendous his on the first drive. Had the catch been made, it likely would have been for a touchdown. Chancellor did a marvelous job of turning his hips and running to the receiver to provide help to the safety once he saw the ball was being thrown.


Crezdon Butler also made an exceptional play when he broke off his man and picked a pass late in the second quarter that set up Clemson?s field goal as time expired in the half. He also had a possible touchdown saving play on the first drive with a pass break up and dropped another interception in the third.


The sophomore corner was equally as good against the run. Twice he forced plays wide that resulted in no gain or a loss by stuffing pulling linemen.


Tommy Bowden said safety Michael Hamlin had his best all-around game as a Tiger and I think few would disagree. He had a huge fumble recovery on a blitz in the first quarter just two plays after Clemson turned it over. That play led to a Clemson field goal that tied the game and may have been the turning point.


Hamlin may be the most instinctive defender on the team and it showed Saturday. He was consistently around the ball and had some big stops against the run, especially in short yardage situations.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Mark Buchholz missed his first kick of the day, another one that missed wide of the mark, but he recovered and finished the day by making his final three attempts.


Buchholz?s kickoffs were exceptional in the first half, with nearly all of them going five to eight yards deep in the end zone, but they were not as good in the second half. I am not sure how much the wind affected him, if at all, because he kicked in both directions in the first half.


His less than stellar kicks were overcome by very good coverage. The kickoff unit has been much maligned this season, but they did a better than average job on Saturday. Maryland?s best starting position after a kickoff was the 27-yard line, and that was after a kick that only made it to the 12-yard line.


Jimmy Maners only had two chances to punt and did not do much to help his average by totaling 74 yards on two kicks. He bombed his first one at least five yards out of the end zone when attempting to pooch it, but his second one had good hang time and distance (44 yards) and was downed at the 8-yard line.


The defense did give up 12 yards on a fake while in their ?safe? look. Maryland got lucky in that Ricky Sapp over pursued on a play. The punter acted as if the ball had been snapped over his head and Sapp bit. Had he done his job, which was to make certain the personal protector did not have the ball, the play would have been stopped for no gain.


OVERALL


The offense was very efficient in their workman-like effort. The put 30 points on the board and controlled the clock all day long, which will win most games. The one negative was their inability to capitalize on a few drives that resulted in field goals.


With a 20-3 lead midway through the third quarter, they did not quite get the kill shot they wanted with the field goal. They had the ball with a first-and-goal at the 7-yard line, but a false start backed them up and they could not convert.


Much the same was true for the defense. They had a good all-around effort but need to start and finish a little stronger. With a 30-3 lead in the fourth quarter, they could have driven the final nail in the coffin with a stop. Instead, they let the Terps march 73 yards in four plays for a touchdown.


Otherwise, there is not much to complain about for Clemson fans. There was great effort in all three phases of the game and it seemed like the level of leadership from within was ratcheted up a few notches.


The slogan for this year?s team has been ?Finish the Job.? And although they have not done that in two games this year, the overall goal for the team still remains, which is to win the ACC championship. They will need a little help along the way, but at least Saturday?s performance gives them a shot of not falling short.

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