Roy Martin: Clemson - Maryland Preview


by - Correspondent -
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Now what?


For some, that is a question that has lingered throughout the week.


After looking so good through their first eight games, Clemson looked tired and confused against Virginia Tech. And for a team that finished 2003 and
2004 by winning five of their last six and 2005 by winning six of their last seven, it may not bode well for how they will look in November.


Of course, maybe it was nothing more than an off night in Blacksburg that was exacerbated by the quick turnaround and emotional exhaustion after the Georgia Tech game.


Regardless of the reason for what will be deemed a hiccup for the time being, Clemson needs to get back on track this weekend. And they need to do it in a big way in order to restore some of the confidence that was surely lost last week.


OFFENSE


I stated in the Tech postgame article that it was the worst offensive performance under Bowden. Many have since mentioned the opener against UGA a few years ago, the Thursday night loss to N.C. State, the homecoming loss to UNC, and the debacle against Texas Tech in the bowl game as games that are more deserving of that infamous honor.


All of those were miserable offensive outings that earned a place on his wall of shame, but I still feel last week was the toughest hit because Clemson came in as one of the top statistical units in the country. Scoring points and racking up yards had not been a problem. All of a sudden they looked helpless.


Clemson mounted just one even remotely decent drive in 13 attempts, that being their second drive in which they scored. There would be less cause for concern had they just been slowed down a little rather than brought to a screeching halt.


The good news is they picked up an extra day of rest and they will be back in the friendly confines of Death Valley. They will also be facing a unit that has not looked as formidable as Virginia Tech.


Maryland comes in riding high after a win over Florida State despite having given up 458 yards. The Seminoles racked up 172 rushing yards on 34 carries after not having any semblance of a running game for nearly two years.


Although they list four linebackers as starters, their defense still resembles more of a 4-3 look. Their Leo position is similar to Clemson’s Bandit, in that they play with their hand down a majority of the time, but will line up in a two-point stance and have coverage responsibilities on occasion.


Eight of their 11 starters had starting experience entering the season, and each unit (DL, LBs, and DBs) has at least one guy with more than 22 career starts. No freshmen – redshirt or true – are listed on the two-deep.


Their front four is big and athletic and they are always a fundamentally sound group that plays with a ton of emotion. If you have ever watched a Maryland game, you know why. Their coach, Dave Sollazzo, may be the most emotionally charged coach in football. He is sometimes more fun to watch than the game.


Jeremy Navarre returns after starting as a true freshman last year. His added weight and strength has enabled him to be one of their playmakers.
Trey Covington mans the Leo position. He is an excellent pass rusher who has great footwork.


Nose tackle Carlos Feliciano is at his best against the run because he uses his leverage so well. Tackle Conrad Bolston is in his third year as a starter and is one of the anchors of the defense. He has very good explosiveness off the ball and rushes the passer very well for an interior lineman.


Although they may not be as big as Virginia Tech’s front, they will pose a very tough challenge for Clemson’s line. They force double teams and redirect a lot of plays.


Their linebacker tradition has received a boost the last few years because of E.J. Henderson and D’Qwell Jackson. Henderson was a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year and Jackson won the award last year.


They do not have that type of player this year, but the unit is as well-rounded as it has been in some time. They have excellent depth and are as big as any unit Clemson has seen this year. They are not as fast as Florida State, Georgia Tech, or Virginia Tech, but they have great instincts and are always around the ball. Four of the team’s five leading tacklers are linebackers.


Middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson was rated the top linebacker in the country by some services coming out of high school. He would have been a starter last year had Jackson chosen not to return. He led all non-starters in tackles last season.


Erin Henderson is the younger brother of E.J. He came to Maryland as a quarterback, but moved to linebacker early on. David Holloway mans the strong side position and is a third year starter. He blocked a punt against Clemson two years ago to set up their only touchdown.


Potential All-ACC corner Josh Wilson leads the secondary. He entered the lineup as a starter with four games remaining in 2004 and has steadily improved since. He has very solid cover skills, is a sure tackler, and enough speed to have competed with the Maryland track team last spring. He has seen action in every game during his career.


Free safety Christian Varner is the other returning starter. He is not the biggest or most gifted safety, but he has a very good understanding of the game, takes good angles, and is a punishing tackler.


Strong safety Marcus Wimbush and corner Isaiah Gardner are in the first full seasons as starters. Wimbush, a senior, was a career scout teamer until last season when he saw action in nickel situations. Gardner is a Notre Dame transfer who has come on strong this season after seeing action in 10 games last year.


Many Clemson fans may remember Maryland defensive coordinator/secondary coach Chris Cosh from his days at South Carolina. Do not think for a second that his Maryland secondary will look anything like the one he put on the field in the 63-17 contest in 2003.


Cosh basically had his unit hijacked by Lou Holtz in that game and he was forced to play guys who were out of position. He has better athletes who are more comfortable with their assignments this year.


Maryland has run a lot of zone this year because of the inexperience in the secondary, but they will go man from time to time. They like to bring at least one linebacker in passing situations and will occasionally bring a corner on a blitz.


Teams like Florida State and West Virginia have excelled at running the ball because they used their speed to their advantage. Lots of quick hitters such as the ones that were successful against Georgia Tech should work, as well as finding ways to get Spiller to the corner.


Clemson’s bread and butter is their running game and they will not abandon it just because of last week’s poor showing. At the same time, Maryland will try to do some of the same things the Hokies did.


Maryland is not as good defensively and should not be able to completely shut down Clemson’s attack. They will, however, have marginal success because they have some big run stoppers and they usually have good schemes.


Proctor will not have to set the world on fire, but he must play much better. Even limited success will keep the Terrapins on their heels and allow Davis and Spiller to return to form.


If Proctor plays as he did against the Hokies, all bets are off. This is not Temple. Maryland can beat Clemson if they can abandon their pass defense in favor of run support.


I am not sure how Spence will approach the passing game. Normally I would say he would go to some screen and short passes to build a little confidence, but Proctor struggled with the most basic throws last week.
Whatever he chooses to do, he better hope it works.


DEFENSE


You have to be prepared for so many things when you play a Ralph Friedgen offense. He is a great offensive mind and maybe the only person to ever be the coordinator for a national championship team (Georgia Tech) and a super bowl participant (San Diego). He has always had a solid running game that feeds a very good play action passing attack.


Last year was a down year for his offense and ultimately led to him releasing his coordinator, Charlie Taaffe.


They have improved this season, but are not up to the level with which they operated in his early years at Maryland and during his time at Georgia Tech.
They have shown consistent improvement over the course of the season and are capable of putting up big numbers.


Directing the offense is second year starter Sam Hollenbach. He reminds me a lot of one of Friedgen’s former pupils, George Godsey.


He is an excellent decision maker who is a more than competent passer. What has always impressed me about Hollenbach is his poise and ability to operate under pressure. He is not much of a threat with his feet, but does a good job of running the option, which is something Friedgen likes to do a few times each game.


Their backfield was down at the beginning of last year because of graduation and injuries, but they came on late in the season. They are now as deep as any unit in the league.


Lance Ball rushed for 903 yards last year, despite only starting four games, and has picked up where he left off. He is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and went for over 100 yards against Georgia Tech. He can use speed and power to get around or through defenders.


Sharing a bulk of the load is Keon Lattimore. He is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and had his first 100-yard performance earlier this year against Virginia. Lattimore is more of a power runner and the best blocking back they have. He is their leading receiver out of the backfield with 14 receptions.


Also in the mix is Josh Allen. He had an excellent 2004 campaign, but suffered an injury in their final game and spent 2005 recovering. He is currently ninth on Maryland’s career rushing chart with 1,933 yards.


Their receivers are very inexperienced, but one of the most athletic groups in the conference. Darrius Heyward-Bey has good size (6’2”, 206) and blazing speed. He got off to a slow start, but has hauled in 24 of his 25 receptions in their last six games to lead the team.


Isaiah Williams played in just four games last season, but is another promising young talent. He has 15 catches on the season and 2 touchdowns.
Also in the mix is Danny Oquendo. He played in all 11 games last year, mostly on special teams.


Tight ends Joey Haynos (6’8”, 267) and Dan Gronkowski (6’6”, 266) are big guys who block and catch the ball equally as well. Haynos is second on the team with eighteen grabs, while Gronkowski has just two. Both are excellent fits in Friedgen’s play action system. Many may remember Vernon Davis torching Clemson last year for just over 140 yards on six catches.


The Maryland line is the strength of the team with four returning starters.
Tackles Stephon Heyer (6’6”, 320) and Jared Gaither (6’9”, 350) are mountains who move well. Heyer has started 32 games and Gaither stepped in as a true freshman.


Gaither was a highly sought after prospect who was athletic enough to receive serious consideration from some basketball programs coming out of high school. He has an amazing 36-inch vertical, which is unheard of for someone his size. He is one of the most promising young linemen in the country.


Guards Andrew Crummey (6’5”, 301) and Donnie Woods (6’3”, 289) have 23 and
19 starts. Woods battled through a shoulder injury all of last yea,r but still graded out as their best lineman for the year. Both move well when pulling.


Center Edwin Williams (6’2”, 318) is in his first season as a starter. He split time at center in last year’s game and the coaches have been very impressed with his footwork. His biggest hindrance has been assignment errors.


As for their running game, the Terps employ a good mix of power running and misdirection. Because of the depth at running back, they like to pound away early and use the fresh legs to their advantage late in the game.


Hollenbach is connecting on just over 60 percent of his passes this season.
They will throw the occasional deep ball, but rely more on the short to intermediate routes off of play action. They like to drag their tight ends and/or receivers in hopes of making a linebacker or safety commit in order to open up other receivers.


Another trademark of Friedgen’s offense is the use of screens. The backs have 28 receptions this year, most of which have been on such calls.
Because Gaither moves so well and can be a devastating blocker, they like to go to his side.


Because it is so hard to prepare for all the wrinkles Maryland can throw at you, the key for Koenning’s defense is going to be playing assignment football and tackle well in order to not give up the big play.


The front will need to do a good job of keeping their running game in tact, but they will not have as much pressure to maintain the pocket this week because of Hollenbach’s immobility. That also bodes well for the ends because they should be able to pin their ears back more so than in the last few weeks.


Maryland saw how Virginia Tech pounded away at the Clemson defense last week and drained them as the game wore on. I expect much of the same this week with a little better passing attack mixed in. How well Clemson does against their big front will be the deciding factor.


SPECIAL TEAMS


Maryland’s special teams units have excelled this year.


Punter Adam Podlesh is one of the better ones in the country because he has a strong leg and also does a good job with his directional kicks. He is averaging 44.6 yards on 33 attempts with 14 of his kicks having pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line. Thirty-eight percent of his career kicks have been inside the 20 and 16 percent have been inside the 10.


Kicker Dan Ennis is 8th in the country and 1st in the conference with 1.63 field goals made per game. He does not have a very strong leg, but has been very accurate during his career.


Josh Wilson is averaging 30.1 yards per kickoff return with a long of 100 yards. Danny Oquendo is averaging 10 yards per punt return with a long of 45. They have had excellent return units during Friedgen’s tenure and both groups have kept them in games at times this year.


Their coverage units have given up a few big plays, but have been solid for the most part. Podlesh has only had 13 punts returned for an average of
13.8 yards. The reason for that big number is he has actually out-kicked his coverage a number of times.


Twelve of their 43 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. The averaging starting field position for opponents after a kickoff has been the 24-yard line.


OVERALL


Clemson would like to get back on track and Maryland would like to build on the momentum they have generated with their last three wins.


Maryland has quietly worked their way into the top spot of the Atlantic division with home games against Miami and Wake Forest and a road trip to Boston remaining. A win this week would put them in good shape to make a run at the division title.


Clemson still has a shot at that title, albeit slim. A loss this week would erase any chance they may have of claiming a trip to Jacksonville. Needless to say, both teams have a lot riding on this game.


The line for this game started with Clemson being favored by 16 and it has grown to a 20-point spread as the week has progressed. I am still scratching my head over that. Yes, Clemson should run away with this game based on stats, but Maryland is talented and has lots of potential.


As with nearly every game, it is going to be won up front. Both of their lines are capable enough of controlling the line of scrimmage, which is why the line baffles me.


My guess is the experts think Clemson will come out with a chip on their shoulder and play well in front of the home crowd. Even though I do not like the line, my guess is they are right.


Clemson will once again get the ground game going and the defense will come up with a big turnover to kill a scoring threat. Clemson scores late to for a push as they win 30-10.

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