Roy Martin: Maryland vs Clemson Post-Game Analysis


by - Correspondent -
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Kelvin Grant makes an important catch on the Tigers final drive.

I had a coach that used to say wins are like best friends – each and everyone requires a lot of work and they are hard to come by.


That saying never made much sense to me until Saturday.

It was not pretty, but it was a win. The way things have gone this season it does not matter how ugly it looked on the field. It looks mighty good on paper because there is another notch in the win column.

And when you consider some of the recent trends between the two coaches, it makes it that much sweeter.

Ralph Friedgen entered the game with a 30-0 record when leading at halftime. Tommy Bowden was 4-21 when losing at the half. He was also 0-5 against teams that had Friedgen as its offensive coordinator or head coach.

Bowden has now beaten every head coach in the old ACC. That may not seem like a big deal, but at least he has that monkey off his back. Shaking that dead weight is sometimes the most important thing for a coach looking to establish consistency.


OFFENSE

Maybe the Tigers should treat every drive like it was the end of the half. Of Clemson’s twelve drives, only two were sustained and resulted in any points, both of which came at the end of the halves.

Clemson looked nearly unstoppable on those two drives, as they accumulated 131 of their 206 yards. They looked practically anemic the rest of the day.


The offensive line struggled tremendously against one of the better defenses in the league. Charlie Whitehurst was sacked five times and was hurried on numerous other occasions, not to mention big losses on two busted reverses.

The running game was not as bad as the numbers showed. Reggie Merriweather has emerged as the team’s top back because of his effectiveness in different situations.

Although he does not have quite the speed Duane Coleman possesses when it comes to getting outside, he has enough to make things happen. What has separated him is his ability to get the tough yards between the tackles. He has the perfect build to be the type of runner this offense needs.

The receivers continued to struggle for a better part of the game. They do not have the ability to gain separation like that group has had in the past. To Maryland’s credit, they have a very good secondary and that was part of the problem.


As has been the case all season, third down conversions were a huge letdown. It is amazing Clemson was able to pick up a victory after going 2-for-14 in those situations. This was one of those rare occasions when they somehow got it done. That stat has to change if Bowden wants to win any of the remaining games.

DEFENSE

If a game ball was handed out after the game, it should have been given to the entire defensive unit.


Maryland has struggled in previous weeks, but that should not take away from the performance turned in by John Lovett’s group. They played their best game of the season by allowing a meager 2.9 yards per play.


More importantly, they generated two turnovers that allowed Clemson to win that battle for the first time all season. At some point the offense is going to help them out by generating some points off those opportunities.

Tye Hill may have had his best game as a Tiger. He had multiple pass breakups, including one that saw him come from the other side of the field to negate what should have been a big gain on what looked to be a busted play.

That is the type of play that has allowed him to emerge as the best pure corner on the team.

Jamaal Fudge should be nicknamed The Quiet Storm. For the last year and a half he has been one of the best and most consistent players on the team despite not receiving a lot of press and accolades. Saturday was no different.


He made some big plays, the biggest being a key stop on a fourth down play in the second half. Had Maryland converted, they were looking at nothing less than a routine field goal attempt.


The front four did not apply a lot of pressure on Joel Statham, but they did a great job against the run. Corey Groover continued to shine in that area. He made a number of big plays by fighting through double teams to make tackles and force backs to take a detour.

His never-ending hustle and emotional play has helped him emerge as a leader when the second group is on the field. And even though he was highly touted coming in, his maturation at tackle has been a pleasant surprise considering this is the first time he has really played the position in his career.

Nick Watkins had another good game and is pushing Anthony Waters for more playing time simply because he is a better tackler at this point.


Tremaine Billie also had a solid performance as he is replaced the injured Eric Sampson. Sampson has more range and is a little better in pass coverage, but Billie is a little more physical in run support.


The one area that is still a sore spot for the defense is third-down conversions. Maryland was 7-of-15. That number is too high for a defense that is trying to hold a team together while the offense struggles.


On the drive in which Maryland missed their field goal, they converted three times on third down. Two of those came when it was third-and-six or longer. They also has a gain of nine yards on third down during their scoring drive.

Maybe the most disheartening conversion came on Maryland’s first drive when they were deep in their own territory. Clemson stopped them, but a roughing the passer penalty kept the drive alive and changed the field position battle.

SPECIAL TEAMS

I do not know what players throughout the league did this weekend, but Cole Chason deserves specialist of the week honors in my mind. After having his first attempt blocked, he pounded the ball all day long as he surpassed the 40-yard mark on each of his punts.


His efforts along with those of the coverage unit kept one of the league’s best return men, Steve Suter, in check for all but one of his returns. That was a key factor in maintaining field position most of the day.


Jad Dean continued to produce good kickoffs, especially when Clemson needed it the most with just 23 seconds left in the game. Forcing a team to start at their own 20-yard line may be the best play in football.


Dean also connected on his only field goal attempt as he continued to make the most of his limited opportunities.

Justin Miller has a sub par day by his standards, but it was still good enough to merit a mention. The good thing about Miller is everyone jumps to their feet if he makes the first guy miss because he has that ability to go all the way any time he is given a small window of opportunity.

The blocked punt was the first big letdown by this group all year. Considering the success the punt team has had all year, it is tough to say it was a result of the unconventional form of protection. Maryland just made a great play.


CONCLUSION

This was a defensive battle reminiscent of those Clemson fans were used to seeing in the ‘80s. Tommy Bowden has said many times that he likes winning 10-7 games because it shows the defense is capable of being a dominating unit. As everyone knows, defense wins ball games.

That was definitely the case this weekend.

The offense somehow managed to compile scoring drives when their backs were against the wall. You hate to see ten drives that are practically wasted over the course of a game, but the two that mattered the most showed the potential is there.

Penalties by both the offense and defense really hurt for the first time all season. A couple of Maryland drives were kept alive and the Tigers shot themselves in the foot with some penalties that should have been avoided.

You like to see the intensity that leads to such penalties, but the difference between good and average teams is finding a way to prevent such mistakes.

Clemson’s offensive ineffectiveness seemed to be as much of a result of their mistakes as is was great play by the Maryland defense. I do not feel the opposite is as much the case for Maryland’s offensive misfortunes, which is a good sign for those in orange.


Clemson has the ability to improve simply by decreasing the number of mistakes they make. That is much easier to do than trying to overcome a huge talent gap.


For now, the Tigers have a little momentum for the first time all season. Their backs are still against the wall, so they have to find a way to build upon the good while cutting out the bad.

Forget that it was an ugly win. There will not be an asterisk beside this game when the season is done. You treat it like any other victory and move on. In a season as rough as this one, it is a victory that may be better for the team than one in which they easily handled their opponent.

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