Keys to Clemson vs. Maryland Game


by - Correspondent -
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Justin Miller and Leroy Hill force a fumble at the end of the game against Maryland in 2002.

Clemson enters the month of October after a week off and a big win against Georgia Tech. After watching the replay the win was not as impressive as first thought but there is still a lot to be excited about. The team has a 3-1 record, tons of momentum, and it appears to have found a groove on both sides of the ball.


The bad is they now begin what could be their toughest three game stretch of the season. A perfect September could quickly turn into a very dark and depressing October. This is the month that may determine the fate of this team and Tommy Bowden.


Maryland has reeled off two straight wins in the series after going eight years without defeating the Tigers. The Terps have practically dominated Clemson in both of those victories. They, too, have gained momentum after a tough start. To say they have the mental edge at this point may be an understatement.


The Maryland team is tough for a number of reasons. Sure, they have a great staff and good talent. Pundits rave about Ralph Friedgen and for good reason. He's been successful throughout his career and could easily be classified as an offensive genius.


However, the most important factor in the success of this team may be experience. Both the staff and a solid core of players have been around a while.


Consider that Friedgen and his two coordinators - Charlie Taaffe (OC) and Gary Blackney (DC) - are the fifth most experienced trio in division I-A with 88 years in the game. Both Taaffe and Blackney have been head coaches in the past and are highly respected by the coaching fraternity as good minds. Furthermore, the entire staff has a combined 187 years experience. That averages out to nearly 19 years per coach.


As for the players, there are 13 senior starters and 22 on the team. The offense features eight starters that were there when Freidgen arrived. Including the TE, the offensive line has three redshirt seniors and two redshirt juniors. Add QB Scott McBrien (transfer from WVU) and the offense has nine starters that are at least redshirt juniors.


The defense has seven starters who have now been in College Park at least four years. An eighth, FS Madieu Williams, is a redshirt senior that transferred in after two years at Towson St.


Fridge and his staff have done a good job of developing the talent left by former coach Ron Vanderlinden. Although often overlooked, the Maryland/D.C. area produces a lot of good players. Maryland has always benefited from this. The difference is they now have a staff that knows what to do with the kids once they are on campus.


OFFENSE


Clemson would almost have to try to look as bad on offense as they did against the Terps last year. Even then, it would be a challenging feat. The Tigers racked up a pathetic 211 yards of total offense in that game.


Granted, it was only the third start for Charlie Whitehurst but some would have thought it was the first time Clemson's offense had ever stepped on the field. Three trips to the red zone resulted in only 3 FGs. A horrific 3-of-13 on third down conversions meant the offense spent most of the night on the sidelines.


What is scary is the Maryland defense might be better suited for the Tigers now than they were last year.


Their strengths seem to match up very well against what has been so successful for Clemson - the pass. They have the seventh best pass defense in the country as they are only giving up 142.2 yards per game. They are ninth in the nation in total defense.


Much of the credit goes to their secondary. All four starters are back from last year's team and their experience is paying off. Each of them has played corner back at some point in their careers. This versatility allows the coaches to be more liberal in how they develop schemes each week.


On paper, it appears the Clemson offense does not stand a chance. They have proven they cannot run the ball and throwing against Maryland seems to be futile. Of course, games involve much more than paper match-ups.


Clemson's wide receiver unit may be the biggest and most athletic Maryland has faced to date. The Terps should be able to get good pressure on the quarterback so - much to the dismay of fans - may have to employ its ball control passing game. Get the ball in the hands of the wide receivers and see what they can do after the catch.


Do not worry. There will still be some deep balls in the game plan. After all, they do have to keep the secondary honest. Unfortunately, those are very low percentage throws that have to be used sparingly. Whitehurst is going to have to be the man to carry this offense yet again. If he is off, it will be a long and painful day for the Tigers.


Clemson will continue to run the ball, but it should be runs that are set up by the passing game. They are not going to beat the Terps by pounding the ball at them.


Some trickery may be involved but do not look for a lot. Maryland is a very fundamentally sound team and they will not be caught off guard very often. The offense is going to have to play mistake free and hope to catch a few breaks along the way.


DEFENSE


Some have joked in the past that Ralph Friedgen's favorite coach is Reggie Herring. The head Terp had some of his best games as an offensive coordinator against Herring coached defenses. Other than three interceptions in last year's game, one has to believe he likes looking across the field to see John Lovett's face.



The Terps are leading the ACC in rushing with 185.2 yard per game. So far this season they have run the ball just over 60% of the time. What makes them so tough to stop is their diversity.


They use a number of different formations and motions to try and get the defense out of position. They may employ a three wide receiver, one back set to throw the ball on first down and come back with the option out of the I on second down. They use a lot of different personnel and always keep you on your toes.


They torched Clemson for 438 yards last year. A whopping 285 of that came on the ground as they averaged 4.83 yards per carry. The defense just could not get off the field as Maryland was 11-of-19 on third downs. All of that despite three turnovers means it was a dominating performance.

Once again, the front seven has to really step it up this week. The Terps are going to pound, pound, pound the ball as much as they can then try to catch the secondary and linebackers sleeping with play action passes. It is one of those games in which all 11 defenders must be on the same page every play as they stick to their fundamentals.

Their offensive line is very big and experienced. They spread the wealth among their running backs as four have at least twenty carries on the year. A fifth player - QB Scott McBrien - has 26. Speaking of McBrien, there is nothing flashy about him other than he wins ball games. He's the perfect player to lead that offense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is where Maryland wins some games.

Kicker Nick Novak is one of the best in the nation. He has made 46 of his last 51 attempts. Five of the six misses have come from 50+. If the Terps can get inside the Clemson 33, they are almost guaranteed to put points on the board barring a turnover.


They also boast the fifth best punting average in the nation. As evidenced in the Tennessee/South Carolina game, a good punter can change the tempo and outcome of a game.

On the flip side, they have one of the best return men in the game. Steve Suter is their all-time leading returner as a junior with 935 yards. He tied an NCAA record last season when he returned four punts for touchdowns. He has the perfect attitude and ability for the position. Imagine a bigger Kelly Rhino (former Georgia Tech returner) on speed.

The one good thing for the Tigers is Justin Miller and Derrick Hamilton have done a good job returning kicks. The team leads the ACC and is fourth in the nation. In last year's game, they burned the Terps for 165 yards on 5 returns. Fans have to hope they do equally as well this year but do not want to see as many attempts.


SUMMARY



The wins against Furman, MTSU, and GT were cakewalks compared to what will take place in Byrd Stadium Saturday afternoon. A week off was bad in that it may have tempered some of the momentum. Of course, the good is that it allowed some extra preparation for a good Maryland team.


It is a big game for the Tigers because it is a conference road game on ABC. Amazingly, Clemson has a better ACC road record than they do at home. They are also 8-3 in ABC games under Bowden.


If they want to make it 9-3, there will have to be a lot of improvement from the GT game. The Tigers made too many mistakes against a young Yellow Jacket squad even though they won big. Those same mistakes will spell disaster against Maryland.


Whitehurst must carry the offense. It would be a nice surprise to see the offensive line really step up their level of play but that may be another month away. The wide receivers have had three good games against mediocre clubs. Now is the time for them to live up to all the press they have been receiving.


The defense turned in a good statistical performance against GT, but they still gave up some big plays and made some stupid mistakes. They must be more consistent and play fundamental football this week. It seems as if it is said every week but Donnell Washington, Dejuan Polk, and Eric Coleman must have huge games.


The Tiger coverage units must do a good job of containing Suter. Do not be surprised to see Jad Dean return to kicking it into the end zone. And as crazy as it sounds, do not be shocked to see Cole Chason try the running punts used by more and more teams. It is ugly but fairly effective. It is a wrinkle that could have been added in the off week.


A win over Maryland would be huge. It would mean a 2-0 conference start, a big road win against a favored team, and tons of confidence heading into homecoming. It has all the makings of a good game. At the very least, it should be more competitive than the last two years.


Unfortunately for the Tigers, Maryland will make it three victories in a row with a 24-17 win.

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