Roy Martin: Maryland vs Clemson Preview


by - Correspondent -
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I have an idea for those of you contemplating placing a bet on this week’s game – don’t do it. Instead, you should have a monkey draw six numbers from a hat and hope they win the next lottery drawing.


So much has changed over the last couple of weeks that what once looked like a sure victory for Maryland has now turned into a game in which Clemson is favored.


It’s not so much that Clemson has improved by leaps and bounds. If they have made some strides towards getting better, it’s hard to say how far they’ve come.


The real reason behind this seemingly sudden parity is the downfall of the Maryland offense. Long known for their potent attack, the Terps have fallen on hard times in losses to Georgia Tech and N.C. State.


Should this streak continue, Clemson has a shot at really gaining some momentum for the first time this season. If Maryland can regroup, the Tigers are facing another stiff challenge as they try to remain bowl eligible.


I guess you gamblers have a 50/50 chance, so maybe the monkey isn’t such a good idea after all. Of course, the monkey won’t break your kneecaps if he doesn’t get paid.


OFFENSE


Lost in much of the talk about Maryland over the last few years has been the success of their defense.


Maryland finished last season ranked sixth in the country in scoring defense. That’s after finishing seventh in 2002 and eighteenth in 2001. Since 2001, they have held 70% of their opponents to twenty or less points.


Tommy Bowden knows this all too well.


And despite three losses, this year hasn’t been much different. They may not be quite as stingy as they have been in the past, but they know how to get the job done.


Just ask Tech and State, both of whom had trouble putting points on the board despite the Terps’ offensive woes.


Maryland has always defended extremely well against the run in hopes of making their opponents throw the ball. It wasn’t such a bad idea last year when they had four returning starters in the secondary.


With Domonique Foxworth being the lone returning starter this year, one would think things have changed. That’s not necessarily so. Maryland is ranked 22nd in the country in pass defense.
They love to force teams into becoming one-dimensional.


Last year’s game is a perfect example. Charlie Whitehurst threw for 320 yards, but he didn’t get much help at all from the ground game, which left him hopeless inside the red zone.


Other than Foxworth, the names to keep in mind are D’Qwell Jackson and Shawne Merriman. Jackson is a name most ACC fans know. Many pegged him as a preseason All-ACC player.


Merriman has been a pleasant surprise. He spent most of last year nursing injuries that never allowed him to play at 100%. This year he’s been a terror, as he has accumulated 50 tackles. Ten of those have been for loss, five of which were sacks.


It’s not likely that Clemson will come out and rush for 200 yards. That would nearly guarantee a victory, as the Tigers are 20-1 under Bowden when doing so.


Instead, they need to be able to at least run effectively from time to time and use the backs as receivers. Merriweather and Coleman do provide a combination that Maryland hasn’t seen in a while, at least from Clemson. That should provide some help.


At this point, the game plan is nothing more than basic football – good decisions by the quarterback, receivers running the correct routes and making catches, and the line giving everyone some time and room to operate.


The talent is there. Maybe not as much as the coaches and fans would like, but there is enough to make the game plans work.


With all of the bad breaks that have hurt the offense throughout the season, maybe this is the week their luck changes. Unless the Maryland defense takes a nosedive, Clemson will need all the luck they can muster to put some points on the board.


DEFENSE


After five years on the job, someone should check Tommy Bowden’s birth certificate to make sure his dad really is Bobby. There are those that would argue it’s Ralph Friedgen.


The Fridge has owned Bowden. In his two years as offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets went wild against Clemson. The same has been true since he took over at Maryland.


The Terrapins have been very balanced against the Tigers in their three contests under the current coaching staff. The running game is a big part of their success because it opens up so much of their passing attack through play action.


Maryland has a solid line, a good back, and some more than adequate receivers. Their problems seem to revolve around the quarterback position and a desire to establish a two back rotation.


Friedgen is known for making the most out of a quarterback with limited ability. Scott O’Brien and George Godsey are two that come to mind. They may not have been all-conference talents, but they did a great job of running the offense.


Joel Statham and Jordan Steffy seem to fit that mold, although Steffy is the athletic type that staff has been wanting for so long. They just don’t have the experience needed to excel at this point in their careers.


As for the running backs, Josh Allen is a good one. He’s proven that in the past by filling in for an injured Bruce Perry. Sammy Maldonado is the other back in the equation. He seems more suited to be a fullback and it sometimes shows when he runs.


It would seem the Maryland offense would be able to establish more of a rhythm if Allen was given more carriers.


Based on the last three meetings, the key for the defense has to be getting off the field on third down. Maryland has converted on 55.9% of those opportunities during that time span. It takes nearly a season’s worth of turnovers to win a game when you allow a team to stay on the field that often.


In order to do that, Clemson must be able to shut down the running game and force Maryland into third and long situations.


Maryland’s youth at quarterback and Clemson’s ability to get a number of players involved in the rush should favor the Tigers, who have thirteen different players that have registered a sack.


The one wildcard could be Jordan Steffy. He has the potential to make a lot of things happen with his feet. As any Clemson fan knows, the Tigers have struggled in recent memory with mobile quarterbacks.


SPECIAL TEAMS


As always, Maryland is very good on special teams.


Nick Novak is the best kicker in the conference and one of the best in the country. He has multiple scoring records and seemingly adds a new one each week.


Punter Adam Podlesh is currently leading the country with a net punting average of over 46 yards per kick. He’s also had eight kicks downed inside the 20.


Wide receiver/return man Steve Sutter is always a threat to take one the distance. He’s fearless as both a kick and punt returner. He has the speed and moves that can turn a would-be five-yard game into a twenty-yard thriller.


The way both offenses have played in the last few games could mean the difference will occur in the return game. Clemson has had some big performances from this group, as they have scored 28 special teams points. They will need all the help they can get again this week.


CONCLUSION

Maryland is as big of a question mark right now as Clemson. In the last two weeks they’ve turned in the worst and third worst offensive performance of any Division I team this year with games of 82 and 91 total yards.


The crazy thing is they turned in the second best performance of 2004 just three weeks ago against Duke when they amassed 685 yards. It doesn’t matter how bad Duke is, 685 yards is a ton of offense.


Meanwhile, Clemson has yet to win a turnover battle. They have been outscored 35-0 in points off of turnovers. So much for trying to figure out why they’re 2-4.


Tommy Bowden said earlier this week that Charlie Whitehurst is catching a lot of undue heat for his thirteen interceptions. I agree. Six of them were balls that should’ve been caught but were tipped to defenders.


Add an insignificant pick off of a hail mary to end the first half against Tech and you have six bad balls all year. That could be the difference between 4-2 and 2-4.


Even though the two teams are 2-4 and 3-3, this should be an exciting game. Both need this one very badly to maintain any hopes of making a bowl game. Both are also looking for a good victory to get back on track and hopefully establish some sort of identity.


There are so many unanswered questions that still remain that I hate having to predict an outcome. What it all boils down to is who has the mental edge.


That nod has to go to Maryland. The Law of Averages says Clemson will have to beat Friedgen at some point in time. Unfortunately, it’s hard to side with the Tigers considering how they have played.


All things being equal, they will have to win one before one can honestly say they have a chance to win what should be a close game. The Fridge pulls another rabbit out of his hat as they win 21-17.

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