By Ashley Denny.
COLLEGE PARK, MD- The last time our Clemson Tigers traveled to College Park, MD to take on the Maryland Terrapins, the eventual Atlantic Division Champions, “laid an egg” as Coach Swinney called it. Several sports broadcasters this week have brought up the two teams last meeting in Byrd Stadium while predicting the outcome of this weekend’s contest wondering if the Terrapins will surprise the unbeaten Tigers. The Tigers hold a 31-26-2 advantage over the Terps going into this weekend and although the home team has pulled off the upset in this series the past two years, with the Terrapins clinching the victory in 2009 at their home field and the 6-7 Tigers coming away with a 31-7 victory in Death Valley last season over an eventual 9 win Terrapin team. This year is different however, the Tigers are not struggling as they were coming into the 2009 matchup, and there are several question marks surrounding the Maryland program after they’ve racked up 3 losses so far this season against West Virginia, Temple and Georgia Tech.
Going into the Clemson game, the main question surrounding the Terrapins’ offense is who will be under center on Saturday at 7pm? Starter Danny O’Brien struggled at first last week against Georgia Tech and Head Coach Randy Edsall didn’t hesitate to pull him from the game and replace him with backup quarterback CJ Brown. Edsall has remained mum this week surrounding the topic and he continues to evaluate the two signal callers going into Saturday’s matchup.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge preparing for two quarterbacks,” Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said in a teleconference Wednesday. “Obviously we hadn’t seen much of the other guy until last Saturday against Georgia Tech. Already he’s the second leading rusher on only 11 carries, which is pretty impressive.”
Maryland on Offense-
The Terrapins return last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year winner in quarterback Danny O’Brien however O’Brien has yet to get into a groove this season as he’s thrown for only 930 yards, 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions throughout five games.
“When they’re on offense, they like to run the zone read a lot even with O’Brien in there,” Swinney said. “He hasn’t run it as much as far as keeping the ball. You know that’s definitely a challenge for us as far as having to prepare for both styles, but it is what it is and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready come Saturday.”
After losing several of their top receivers to the NFL after last season, the Terrapins now rely on junior Kevin Dorsey in their receiving corps who leads their offense with 26 receptions. Dorsey ranks seventh in the ACC in receptions at 5.6 per game and ninth in receiving yards at 70.4 per game. Tight end, Matt Furstenburg is also off to a solid season with 16 catches, which his four more than his 2010 total. Furstenburg ranks second in the ACC in receptions per game at 3.2 among tight ends.
The Terrapins running game led by Davin Megget has been the most consistent part of Maryland’s offense so far this season. Megget, a Doak Walker Award finalist, has had 10 receptions for the Terps so far this season and ranks fifth in the ACC in rushing yards per game at 82.6.
Maryland’s Week 6 Performance on Offense-
Maryland started off shaky early on against Georgia Tech last weekend; with Edsall having to pull his first string quarterback O’Brien from the game after he went 1-6 in the first quarter with an interception. O’Brien’s backup, CJ Brown didn’t fare much better in the passing attack against the Yellow Jackets, ending the game 4 of 17 for 37 yards and an interception. Although his passing numbers weren’t great, Brown carried the ball 9 times for 124 yards, including a 77 yard touchdown run that started Maryland’s fourth quarter comeback.
Senior running back Megget also had a big day on the ground as he rushed for 86 yards. Overall the Terrapins had a season high 246 rushing yards against the Yellow Jackets.
Advantages for Maryland-
The main advantage for the Terrapins coming into Saturday’s game is that they have home field advantage which could mean a lot in the scheme of things. With the game being a night game, and with Clemson coming to town, look for Byrd Stadium to be packed out, and if Maryland’s offense can get control of the game early, the fan noise and environment may make it difficult for the Tigers to focus on executing their game plan.
Another advantage for Maryland is that no one knows besides those inside the program who will be starting at quarterback. Therefore Clemson’s defense has had to prepare for two very different quarterbacks this week in practice. Although the Tigers have seen O’Brien perform and know what he can do, CJ Brown is still somewhat of an unknown as he’s only played in one game. The Tigers therefore only have one film to dissect in order to get ready for Saturday’s matchup.
Clemson’s Week 6 Performance on Defense-
Before the Virginia Tech game two weekends ago, something clicked on Clemson’s defense and since then they have been playing lights out. Against the Hokies, it was senior defensive end Andre Branch who had a career day, as he became Tech quarterback Logan Thomas’s worst nightmare. Against Boston College though, the Eagles did whatever they could to contain Branch by double or triple teaming him, trying to keep him from pressuring their quarterback. Although at times this system worked for the Eagles, it also left junior defensive end Malliciah Goodman single blocked, leaving him to have the best game of his career with six tackles, three for a loss, and a sack that caused a fumble.
Over the past two weeks, Clemson’s defense has been much improved as they’ve held opponents overall to only 17 points and each team has had only 258 total yards. Clemson’s defense has been moving up the charts statistically over the past few weeks and now ranks 24th in the nation in scoring defense. The main reason why the Tigers’ have been so unstoppable on defense is that they are limiting the amount of big plays. In the past two weeks, opponents have had only 1 play of 20 yards or more on the Tigers. Also, the Tigers have had 7 sacks in the last two games, where they only had 4 in the first four games of the season.
Advantages for Clemson’s Defense
Although the Tigers played their best overall game against Boston College last weekend, they’ve remained grounded which I see as a big advantage coming into this weekend. They realize that there are still a lot of improvements to be made on both sides of the ball and so instead of being complacent and happy with their 6-0 start, the Tigers are preparing as hard for the Maryland game as they’ve done for every other opponent they’ve faced.
A second advantage for the Tigers would be the fact that their defense is coming into its own and starting to get as much recognition as their offensive teammates. After the Florida State game, which the defense won for the Tigers with Rennie Moore’s sack of Clint Trickett on 4th and 9, they’ve gained confidence in themselves and their teammates making them a tough defense to score on.
A third advantage would have to be the fact that Edsall has yet to name his starting quarterback. He may be doing this in order to keep the Tigers’ on their toes and make them prepare for both O’Brien and Brown, but there’s a slight possibility that neither O’Brien or Brown has proven themselves worthy of the starting position this week in practice and therefore Edsall needs more time to make the decision.
Finally, this is probably the biggest advantage for the Tigers is that they are trying to move away from their past. Clemson has always been known for winning the games that most people think they shouldn’t and then losing to teams that they should have beaten. This 2011 team has been told this over and over again, and some players have even been part of those teams. At 6-0, they are still not getting the respect that they deserve from the national media, because of their past. Because of this, this team is focused in proving that they are a different team and that Clemson football has changed.
Yes the Tigers lost to the Terrapins the last time that they made the trip to Byrd Stadium in 2009; however this is not the same Clemson team. Last week against Boston College, when most thought our Tigers would come out flat and that BC would make the game interesting quickly, the Tigers came out and quickly made the game 17-0. Although Maryland has always been a competitive team in the ACC, I just don’t know if they can have as successful of a day running the ball against Clemson’s dominant defense. Offensively, Clemson has several playmakers that can make an impact quickly and quietly if the Terrapins aren’t careful. Sammy Watkins will probably be double teamed on Saturday which is something teams have been trying to do to keep him contained. The only problem I see, which has happened several times so far this season is that when Sammy is double teamed, that leaves tight end Dwayne Allen, and receivers Jaron Brown, Nuk Hopkins open and ready to make big plays.