By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
Each week, players and coaches attempt to study an opponent to find out how they can best exploit the weaknesses of the team they see on film.
But what happens when the team that appears on film does not match the team that will take the field in the eventual matchup?
This is the precarious situation facing ninth-ranked Clemson as it prepares to face off against conference foe Maryland on Saturday in College Park.
The Terrapins were considered a sleeper by many coming into the season, a team capable of competing at a high level due to its veteran leadership and athleticism at key positions. But the story for the Terps has become about a rash of debilitating injuries that have depleted the supply of talent available for Randy Edsall to utilize.
Clemson is treating it just like every other week, even though the matchup looks vastly different than it did when the season began back in August.
“We’ve got to prepare for what we’ve seen on video and expect them to expect their young guys to step up like we would ours,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We wouldn’t dramatically change what we’re doing. I’m sure they’ll utilize their strengths.”
The Terrapins will try to utilize their strengths, but they are more likely to be found on the injury report than the field this week. Maryland will face Clemson without its incumbent co-starting quarterback (C.J. Brown), starting tailback (Brandon Ross), top two wide receivers (Stefon Diggs and Deon Long), and starting tight end (Dave Stinebaugh).
To put those numbers into perspective, Maryland will be without almost 70 percent of its rushing yardage, about 64 percent of its passing yardage, and more than 71 percent of its receiving yardage from this season against the Tigers. Four of Maryland’s top five receivers will be missing in action.
The injuries do not stop on offense. Maryland’s top tackler (L.A. Goree) and leader in interceptions (Dexter McDougle) will also miss Saturday’s game. This all can cause a headache for opposing coaches when it comes to figuring out how to attack Maryland.
The Tigers were looking forward to competing with talented wideouts like Diggs and Long and a dual-threat quarterback like Brown. But they say they know better than to overlook a Terrapin squad that gave Clemson a dogfight last year with a linebacker playing quarterback.
“That’s definitely something, as a DB, that you look forward to,” cornerback Martin Jenkins said. “Of course I wish they could play. I don’t wish injuries on anybody.
“Shoot, they could bring some NFL guys in. That’s more fun for us. We’re just ready for anything.”
Clemson is dealing with injuries of its own, particularly in the secondary. The absence of cornerback Garry Peters—along with the first half suspension of corner Bashaud Breeland—has forced Venables to dig deep into his depth chart this week.
“I really think it’s going to be a good challenge,” safety Robert Smith said. “I think all of our players will rise to the occasion and step up to the challenge and accepting the roles they didn’t have early in the season. People see more of our depth now.”
Building depth is an important part of developing a solid program. Both Clemson and Maryland, to varying degrees, are finding out how important it is the hard way.