There is not much to say about the Maryland game other than Clemson let a great opportunity pass them by.
Four straight victories and a 2-0 conference start could have worked wonders for a team trying to establish its identity. Instead, they now face an almost must win situation the next two weeks against teams that will be favored. That is not to say that the season will be a total loss if the Tigers lose one of the next two but it will make for one hell of a climb up the conference mountain.
The worst thing about the loss is that it serves as a momentum killer. The Georgia Tech game had many fans and players feeling good about the direction of this team. As mentioned before, progress could be seen every week after the Georgia game.
The level of progression took a big hit this week.
There is no question Maryland was the better team on Saturday. They deserved to win the game. At the same time, Clemson had opportunities to win despite their awful performance. Very few people will agree with that statement, but it is a fact. If the Tigers could have made a play in just a couple of key situations, the players, coaches, and fans could still be riding high after a big road win.
Why they did not come through in those situations is what needs to be determined. Are the Maryland players and coaches that much better? Did their experience shine through? Are they more talented than many think?
There may not be a definitive answer to each of those questions but "maybe" and "yes" are the most probable responses. Maryland is without a doubt a well-coached team with solid talent. Their two early losses are a thing of the past. The Terps are the second best team in the conference right now.
There is no shame in losing to a good team...especially one that may be better. The shame is in letting such a loss stick with you in a negative way. As a player, you cannot let a loss beat you twice. Clemson did enough good in this game to walk away from it with the right mindset. View it as a learning experience and move on. There are way too many games left to let it ruin a season.
This unit was definitely the source of the most unanswered questions on Saturday. Watching the game and looking at the score, left one thinking the offense was totally helpless. At times, that was true.
However, it was not as bad as it seemed. The offense actually moved the ball at times. Their total offensive production was only 20 yards less than Maryland's. Just a semblance of a running game may have made all the difference in the world.
It was hard for Whitehurst to ever get in a groove. He was being harassed most of the day and his receivers dropped a couple of balls in some key situations. It was evident at times that he is still a very young quarterback feeling the pressure of trying to carry a team.
Still, he threw for 320 yards and came through with a very gutsy performance. There were times when you thought he was going to find a way to get the team into the end zone and somehow pull out a victory. The sad fact is the offensive line just did not provide much help.
It is not so much the pass protection, rather, the inability to control the line of scrimmage on running plays. When a team struggles as much as Clemson to run the ball, it is hard to have a very successful passing game. Frankly, what Whitehurst has done at times this year has been downright amazing. And it really is pointless as to who lines up at tailback right now. No one is going to thrive until the front five decide they are tired of being manhandled.
Until that time comes, Bowden needs to scrap the I. Spread the defense out and do whatever it takes to move the ball. If that means dinking and dunking it down the field, then so be it. The line has pass blocked well enough, Whitehurst has thrown well enough, and the wide receivers have caught well enough for that to work.
Short yardage situations were once again an Achilles’ heel. The toss to Jasmin was questionable at best because of his lack of speed. Still, a solid block by the fullback and it appeared the play could have been successful. Such a block would have prevented the defense from stringing out the play and speed - or the lack thereof - may not have been such a big factor.
The pass to Harrell was a good call for a team struggling in those situations. Maryland deserves all the credit in the world for defending a play they had yet to see Clemson run on film.
The bad is that Clemson gave up 21 points and all three touchdowns came on crucial third-down plays.
The good is that Clemson's defense played solid ball on the rest of the drives. For the first time in many years it appeared the defensive staff and/or the players made a change early in the game after giving up two quick scores. Fans had to be pleased to see Lovett make some changes on the run.
The first two drives led many to believe a Ralph Friedgen coached offense would have another field day with Clemson. Nothing could have been further from the truth. After those drives, the Tiger defense dug down deep and gave one heck of an effort. They put themselves in a position to win the game despite an awful start.
Considering Maryland is known for its high-powered offense that says a lot about just how well the Tigers played for the remaining 40 plus minutes.
Of course, such a performance means nothing if they cannot improve upon it and play well again this week. It is still the little things that are killing them. Taking bad angles and poor tackling are the most noticeable.
Those mistakes led to a horrific performance on third downs. The Terps completed 50% of their third down conversions (8-of-16). They were 6-of-6 on such conversions on their three scoring drives. Two of the touchdowns came on third and ten and the other came on third and fifteen. That equates to not getting the job done when it matters the most. The defense has to find a way to get off the field in those situations.
What most hurt was quarterback Scott McBrien had a lot of time to throw. The defense was so focused on stopping Maryland's potent running attack that they lacked a consistent pass rush. They succeeded in stopping the run as Maryland only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. In doing so, they did not blitz very much and became the target of some very effective play action passes.
They essentially had to pick their poison and they chose McBrien. To his credit, he completed the passes when he had to.
Aaron Hunt missed another long field goal. A lot of his misses this year have been tough kicks from long range and this one was no exception. It is hard to classify this as a slump because of the nature of the kicks. At the same time, sugarcoating things does him no good. He is not performing well outside of 35-40 yards.
Cole Chason managed an ugly 36-yard average. It would have been much worse had a 24 yard punt not been nullified by a running into the kicker penalty. The good thing is the coverage seemed to be there and Maryland never got a shot at hurting the Tigers with a big return.
Jad Dean had two good kicks. One was a touchback and the other was a ball kicked to the 2-yard line and returned to the 20. A combination of his touchbacks and the coverage has made this unit one of the most improved on the team to date.
Maryland did a good job of keeping the ball away from Clemson's return men. Hamilton did have two nice punt returns and Miller came through with a nice return on one of the kickoffs. Otherwise, the return games for both teams were very quiet.
Like Hunt, Novak missed a 48-yard attempt. All in all, nothing spectacular happened when the special teams were on the field. It was essentially a wash.
It is another tough loss for the Tigers in a game that could have big implications before all is said and done. Just as the Georgia Tech victory was not as dominating as many thought, this loss was not as bad as it first seemed.
There were enough bright spots to lend hope that all is not lost. The defense showed the most promise, and will be a huge asset the remainder of the season if they can fix the little things. They are very close to being a solid defense, but will not get to that point until they can learn to get off the field. Fundamentals are the key.
Fans should say their prayers each night this week and ask that Charlie be healed by Saturday. With him, this offense has a chance of being pretty good despite its inability to run the ball. Without him, there is not a lot of hope because of inexperienced backups and the lack of a running game.
This Maryland game can be one of those losses that end up having a positive affect on the team. They can better themselves because of it and move on. It can also be one of those losses that send a team into a downward spiral.
How the team reacts is the biggest question at this point. Those interested in an answer will find out soon enough as Virginia comes to town on Saturday.