COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Two weeks. Two traps. Two escapes for the Clemson Tigers.
Reggie Merriweather scored his second touchdown on a 38-yard run with 2:58 remaining, capping a furious fourth-quarter rally that carried No. 25 Clemson past Maryland 28-24 Saturday.
“I was really proud of our players not giving up,“ said Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden. “With so much parity in college football, if you can just somehow convince your team it‘s never till it’s over if you play hard.”
Clemson (2-0, 1-0 ACC) trailed 24-14 before Charlie Whitehurst's second touchdown pass to Curtis Baham cut the deficit to three points with 7:35 remaining.
After a punt by Maryland, Whitehurst directed a 61-yard drive that concluded on Merriweather's winning carry around right end. Clemson had called a time out to discuss the third-and-8 play, deciding to gamble on the call - a delay that was beautifully blocked up front and on the outside.
“I think we wore them down again in the third quarter and once we started throwing the ball a little in the second half we kind of kept them off balance whether to defend the run or defend the pass,” said Bowden.
"I was telling [Offensive Coordinator] Rob [Spence] I thought we would go for it on 4th down anyway. You have two downs to run it, so don't feel like you have to get it all in this shot. If it had been 4th and 4, we were going to go for it anyway."
Whitehurst went 18-for-22 for 178 yards. With Clemson down by 10, he took the Tigers 86 yards in five plays, including an outstanding long pass to Baham that covered the final 51 yards.
Before the pass to Baham, Whitehurst's throws had all been of the short, safe variety. But when Baham got loose on the hitch-and-go, Whitehurst's deep ball was both on target and on time.
"We pulled a little trickery out on that deep touchdown pass to Baham," said Whitehurst. "Other than that, we stuck with the gameplan and tried to wear them down. By the fourth quarter, their defense was tired. We had run the ball a lot, even though it was not very successful, but we had a big one there at the end."
It was the second touchdown strike for the duo. The first gave Clemson a 14-10 lead in the third quarter and was set up by Tye Hill's first interception of the year.
Meanwhile, Clemson's rushing game wasn't as dominant as it was in the season-opening win over Texas A&M, but for the second straight game offensive coordinator Rob Spence stayed with the run-first mentality and wore down Maryland in the fourth quarter.
"I'm very pleased with what we've been able to do in the running game," Spence said afterwards. "The running game is the reason we're 2-0."
Merriweather gained 75 yards on 10 carries, despite coming off the bench. Freshman James Davis ran for 82 yards on 20 attempts.
For now, anyway, those two have frozen out fellow running backs Duane Coleman and Kyle Browning.
“Right now we are probably going to ride those two guys,” said Bowden. “It showed a lot of character on Reggie’s (Merriweathers) part the way he responded today.”
Sam Hollenbach went 18-for-28 for 288 yards and two touchdowns for Maryland (1-1, 0-1). His main target was Vernon Davis, who had six catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.
Maryland running back Mario Merrills, who ran for a career-high 149 yards in the opener against Navy, was limited to 21 yards on 15 carries. Entering the fourth quarter, he had 3 yards on 11 attempts.
“We just got all the guys together on defense and said we got to finish this ball game. Just keep our composure and things will work out,” said Clemson linebacker Anthony Waters.
Clemson opened the game with the longest drive - timewise - in school history. The Tigers took 17 plays and 9:42 to cover 60 yards. Merriweather scored the touchdown from a yard away on a fourth-down run to put Clemson on top 7-0.
Maryland scored the next 10 points, seven of them coming courtesy of a gift from the Tigers. Long snapper Nic Riddle air-mailed a snap over the head of punter Cole Chason in the second quarter, and Chason recovered it at his own three yard line.
The Terrapins scored four plays later on a sneak by Hollenbach.
Maryland took a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter on a pair of scoring drives engineered by Hollenbach - one ending with a 29-yard TD pass to Vernon Davis, the other a three-yard flip to Joey Haynos.
Clemson then began the road back, starting the first of its two TD drives in the fourth quarter from its own 14 yard line.
"I think the team has the mentality that if we play hard for 60 minutes, something can happen to swing it our way," Bowden said. "I'm very fortunate. That's a hard thing to instill in a team. I think this team has that type of personality."
Maryland Head Coach Ralph Friedgen
On the game:
"It was a tough loss to a very good team. We had the game in hand and we have to
give credit to Clemson. They did a great job of coming back. Really, I thought
they took it to us in the fourth quarter which greatly disappoints me. On a
brighter side, we played our younger kids in critical situations and I think
that should help them grow. We had too many penalties. We had two timeouts that
we had to use because people were not paying attention to substitution. We had
14 points that were probably given up on penalties. We are not a team that can
give a ranked team 14 points and expect to win. I thought we did some good
things. I thought we continued to throw the ball well. We have to be able to
finish. We didn't finish and we have to be able to pull the trigger."
On the penalties and fouls:
"I have to look at the film. I think sometimes there is too much talking out
there among players and I'm not for that. Our guys are doing it and so are their
players. We have to be better and we can't be doing that. We had a penalty late
in the game out of frustration. I can't condone that at all. I have to put my
trust in the officials. I can't see that."
On the running game:
"I'm very disappointed on how we ran the ball. If we could have run the ball, we
could have won the game. A good team takes that ball and runs it 80 yards when
you know they can run. I hope we get there someday, but we aren't there yet. But
they have a good football team too."
On the defense:
"I thought our defense did a pretty good job outside of the first drive.
Hopefully they can learn from it."
On the team:
"I'll be very disappointed if they don't respond to this game. I think they are
hurting right now. And I think they thought they could have a number two win.
They ignored an opportunity that they had sitting right there for them. I told
them last night that they could win against a ranked team."
Maryland Linebacker David Holloway
On the game:
"We felt like the game was right in our hands. We were up, and it was on the
defense to close the game out. That is something we take pride in and it is
disappointing to let the game slip away like that."
On the penalties:
"The penalties were huge. That is something that we cannot have because we are
beating ourselves like that. With us giving them 30 yards on that one drive, we
just beat ourselves with the penalties. It is real disappointing because we had
the game. We were a little too aggressive and we did not use our heads all the
Maryland Quarterback Sam Hollenbach
On the game:
"I thought we really should have had a win out there today. It is just starting
to sink in right now. It kind of feels like being on Navy's end like last week,
the game was right down to the last second and we couldn't get it done. You have
to hand it to Clemson, they played us tough. I know we are going to see a lot of
mistakes that we made on the film."
On his performance:
"Personally I am upset with the way I played. I know there were plays that I
should have made that I didn't. Those plays could have been the difference
between winning and losing."
On Vernon Davis:
"He reads the defense really well. We are on the same page. He reads the zone,
gets behind the defense and gets himself open. The great thing about him is that
when he catches the ball he doesn't want to go down. He thinks he is getting a
touchdown every time he touches the ball. For a quarterback you want to throw it
to a guy like that."
Maryland Wide Receiver Danny Melendez
On the game:
"It is just bitter right now. We did what were supposed to do and the game just
slipped right from our hands. It is very frustrating. We had an opportunity to
win the game and we did not do it. You have to give credit to Clemson."
On his relationship with Sam Hollenbach:
"We have been together since our official visit. We have been together for four
years, he has been my roommate all throughout college. We have had confidence in
each other all for all four years. It is just finally starting to generate on
Clemson Head Coach Tommy Bowden
On the 38-yard touchdown on 3rd down:
"I was telling [Offensive Coordinator] Rob [Spence] I thought we would go for it
on 4th down anyway. You have two downs to run it, so don't feel like you have to
get it all in this shot. If it had been 4th and 4, we were going to go for it
On the decision to run on 3rd and 7 on Merriweather's touchdown:
"I just told Rob you have two downs, do whatever you want. I gave him the
flexibility to run or pass if he wanted to. He talks to all the guys and he made
On the offense playing better late in the game:
"We've done that a good bit over the course of the last year. I think it says
something about the strength of conference. I'm glad that we're getting used to
these types of games, because if you're in this conference, you're going to be
in a lot of them. I think there are going to be dry spells for both offenses and
defenses on a week-to-week basis based on what I've seen. There are a lot of
people who are going to come up here and struggle offensively and defensively."
On coming from behind to win in back-to-back weeks:
"I think the team has the mentality that if we play hard for 60 minutes,
something can happen to swing it our way. I'm very fortunate. That's a hard
thing to instill in a team. I think this team has that type of personality."
On racking up 72 4th quarter rushing yards:
"I think the fact that we continued to run the ball made the passing game that
much easier. The defense allowed us to be close enough that we could be patient
and continue to run the ball."
Clemson Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst
On the game:
"We made the plays when we had to, and the defense made the plays when they had
to. It was good to come in here and beat these guys; we have the utmost respect
On the fourth quarter strategy:
"We pulled a little trickery out on that deep touchdown pass to Baham. Other
than that, we stuck with the gameplan and tried to wear them down. By the fourth
quarter, their defense was tired. We had run the ball a lot, even though it was
not very successfully, but we had a big one there at the end."
Clemson Tailback James Davis
On the game and the comeback:
"A game like this, we just wanted to keep it close. Coach [Bowden] has a lot of
plays up his sleeve, and we had to use one when Baham scored. We've got some
plays that can really open up this offense. [Maryland is] a great team, so we
just had to come out and keep playing hard."
On his performance:
"I know teams watch a lot of film, and I want teams to think of me as the impact
player. I want them to be waiting for me to do something every time I touch the
ball. I was just trying to go as it came to me out there today. "