By Will Vandervort
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Each week we take a look back at what the Clemson Tigers did right and what they did wrong on the gridiron as we grade the ninth-ranked Tigers’ performance at every position in Saturday’s 40-27 victory over Maryland.
That was truly one of the gutsiest performances by a Clemson player that no one knew about. Tajh Boyd was hobbling around before the game due to complications from a sprained ankle last week. Then in the second quarter he twisted the same knee he tore his ACL in as a senior in high school. In obvious pain, Boyd played through it all, saying afterwards, “I have played in worse pain.” When Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris asked if he could take on some running plays in the fourth quarter, Boyd said no problem and took the game over. The Clemson quarterback threw for 304 yards and ran for 35 more, while running and throwing for a touchdown.
Rod McDowell finally found the end zone and once he got there, it did not take him long to come back. After scoring a touchdown from three yards out early in the fourth quarter, the senior closed out the Tigers scoring with a 45-yard scamper. McDowell rushed for a career-high 161 yards on a career-high 30 carries. Zac Brooks rushed for 36 yards prior to hurting his shoulder in the third quarter.
Wide receivers/ Tight ends
There were a couple of drops again, which kept this unit from getting an “A.” Sammy Watkins put on a great showing in catching a school record 14 passes for 163 yards. Martavis Bryant hauled in four catches for 88 yards. Freshman Jordan Leggett made a great catch in the right corner of the end zone just before halftime for a 5-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a nine-point lead at halftime.
Yes the Tigers rushed for a season-high 247 yards and yes they averaged 4.3 yard per carry, but a lot of those yards came in the fourth quarter and most of it was due to Boyd’s ability to be a factor in the running game than anything the offensive line did. Maryland seemed to get pressure on Boyd all night, and in fact sacked him four times. Clemson did do better in short yardage situations, but Clemson’s inability to score touchdowns in the red zone was a direct result of the offensive line being unable to control and pick up the pressures the Terrapins were bringing.
The Terps had just 82 yards rushing though they were sacked only twice all day. The Tigers did get pressure on the quarterback, which is why Caleb Rowe was only 19 of 45 for 262 yards and two interceptions. Defensive end Vic Beasley, the nation leader in sacks, had another strip sack, while Josh Watson recorded his first one of the season. Maryland averaged only 3.3 yards per rush.
Clemson’s linebackers did a much better job in zone coverage this week as Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey kept things in front of them instead of letting wide receivers slip in behind them like FSU did. Anthony again led the Tigers with seven tackles, while Shuey had five tackles.
Statistically speaking they deserve an “A.” But Maryland was missing it’s starting quarterback, top four wide receivers, it’s starting running back and it’s starting tight end, yet they still were wide open at times. Guys either dropped passes – seven that I counted – or Caleb Rowe overthrew them. Bashaud Breeland did come on and record seven second half tackles after having to sit out he first part of the game for a targeting penalty last week. He also recoded a fumble, while Jayron Kearse and Robert Smith each had intercpetions.
The return game itself was average and Bradley Pinion has had better days punting the ball. But kicker Chandler Catanzaro knocked in four extra points and four field goals in the game. His 16 points moved him into fourth place on the ACC’s all-time list, passing former kicker Casey Barth of North Carolina.
The Tigers were still smarting a little bit from the loss to Florida State and for a good bit of the game Saturday they seemed to have a hangover of some sort from it. The defense played great and defensive coordinator Brent Venables did a good job adjusting to what Maryland did in the first quarter. He virtually took away the slant that was working so well in the first quarter. Morris was stubborn to what he wanted to do in the running game, but he stuck with it and ultimately leaned on Boyd to get it going in the second half. The Tigers rushed for 93 yards in the fourth quarter.