By Will Vandervort
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – It took three quarters, but ninth-ranked Clemson finally pulled away from Maryland as quarterback Tajh Boyd and running back Rod McDowell ran for fourth quarter touchdowns in leading the Tigers to a 40-27 victory at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md.
Clemson went in to the fourth quarter clinging to a 19-13 lead, but Terrapin running back Albert Reid fumbled a first-down run at his own 22, which linebacker Spencer Shuey recovered. It took Boyd and the offense four plays to capitalize on the gift as he took the ball in from five yards out to give the Tigers a 26-13 lead with 13:04 to play.
Cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who sat in the locker room by himself while serving his first-half suspension due to a targeting call in last week’s game against Florida State, caused the fumble that got the Tigers going.
“I’m just really proud of our defense and how they responded,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We had some mistakes with turnovers but we were very fortunate because we got them back. We ended up plus one on the turnover margin, but hats off to our defense.”
After Maryland (5-3, 1-3 ACC) forced Clemson’s third turnover of the game, the defense stood up and got the ball back on downs. Boyd then hit Martavis Bryant down the seam 41 yards to the Maryland five. Two plays later, McDowell went in from four yards out to give the Tigers a 33-13 lead with 7:57 to play.
Following a Maryland touchdown, McDowell later put his stamp on the day with a 45-yard jaunt off the left side of the line to put the Tigers back up 20 points at 40-20. The senior running back helped Clemson get over 200 yards rushing for the first time this year with 161 yards on 30 carries.
The Tigers finished with 247 yards on the ground, and 551 overall.
“This team was only giving up only 120 something yards a game. They have been very difficult to run the ball on so I’m proud of my guys there,” Swinney said.
The Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) grabbed a 19-13 lead on a 24-yard Chandler Catanzaro field goal. It was his fourth field goal of the day. That came after Maryland pulled within three points thanks to two Clemson turnovers on back-to-back offensive plays. The Terps gained just three yards on those two possessions and settled for Brad Craddock field goals of 41 and 41 yards.
On the three turnovers Maryland forced, they totaled 6 points and minus-nine yards of offense.
“We put the ball down twice inside our twenty and they only come away with six points. Our defense responded,” Swinney said. “That’s one of the big things in our game last week. We got outscored 24-0 off turnovers, but tonight we got turnovers and scored.”
Boyd finished the game with 304 yards passing and 35 yards rushing, while tying former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers for the most touchdown responsibilities in a career with 112. Besides running for a touchdown, he also threw a 5-yard toss to freshman tight end Jordan Leggett.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins caught a single-game record 13 passes for 163 yards.
After struggling to get the ball in the end zone the previous three times it drove the ball inside the Maryland 20—all of which ended with Catanzaro field goals—Clemson finally got in the end zone when Boyd found Leggett in the right side of the end zone.
The freshman did his best Santonio Holmes impression and was able to get one foot down while falling out of bounds with 0:09 left in the first half as the Tigers took a 16-7 lead in the locker room.
The Tigers opened the scoring with an 11-play, 57-yard scoring drive which Catanzaro capped with a 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 10:27 to go in the first quarter.
Caleb Rowe and the Terps answered on their next possession when he hit Levern Jacobs on a slant over the middle and Jacobs did the rest as he spilt the safeties and went 71 yards for the touchdown. That gave Maryland a 7-3 lead with 8:59 to go in the first.
Boyd drove the Tigers down the field again on their ensuing possession, Clemson had a first-and-goal from the nine, four and two-yard line—due to penalties—and it failed to cash in. Catanzaro again was called in for a short field goal try and his 29-yard kick was true, cutting the score to, 7-6.
Maryland ended the first quarter with a long drive that carried the ball inside the Tigers’10, but on third down-and-goal from the seven, Clemson safety Jayron Kearse intercepted Rowe’s pass in the end zone and returned it 25 yards to the 25-yard line.
“Our defense came up big for us tonight,” Boyd said. “They kept making plays for us and getting us the ball back. That was big. They really had our backs.”
Boyd and the Tigers were able to turn the Kearse interception into three points as he twice hit Watkins for big gains, including a 25-yard pass which put the ball at the Maryland 13. The drive eventually bogged down inside the 10 and Catanzaro was called on for a 25-yard field goal which he nailed for a 9-7 lead with 9:50 to play in the half.