Here is my breakdown of Clemson’s 40-27 victory over Maryland…
- I think it’s appropriate to note that I see this game as an offensive push and a defensive win from Clemson’s perspective. I thought the Tigers kicked it into gear offensively in the final quarter, but the majority of the game featured an absolutely dominant run by the defense. Kudos to Brent Venables’ group—outside of the final two drives—for coming up big once again.
- Clemson chose to defer when it won the coin toss, which is bizarre considering the Tigers had received 17 consecutive kickoffs heading into the game. After looking at Maryland’s offensive personnel on the injured list, it makes a lot more sense.
- Chad Morris admitted to being stubborn about running the ball, which was the first time in three games he did what he needed to do with the running game. He ran it too much against Boston College and not nearly enough against Florida State. Rod McDowell did a nice job with his opportunities from start to finish, running with physicality when necessary and making strong and confident cuts upfield.
- I’d also note that the announcing team of Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham could not have been more dreadful. I could list all of the major gaffes they made, but the list would make this post unreadable.
- The first offensive drive—the one Morris always scripts—could be aptly described as a “rhythm drive”. Nine of the 11 plays were either runs or screen passes designed to get everyone more comfortable. For what it’s worth, the two dropback passes went for a near-sack and an incompletion.
- In fact, the Tigers ran 39 plays in their first three drives and only scored nine points. In the same span, Maryland ran 17 plays and scored seven points.
- The only noticeable breakdown on the long touchdown play by the Terrapins came from safety Travis Blanks. At the snap of the ball, the Tigers morphed from a two-high look at the back end of the defense to a one-high look. Robert Smith dropped down into zone coverage underneath, while Blanks rolled up to the deep middle. Caleb Rowe made a good throw to fit the ball into the gap in the zone, which is where Blanks has to understand his role. As the only safety on the play, he can’t afford to recklessly attack the ball carrier, yet that’s exactly what he did. His poor angle and lack of discipline led to a predictable result when he missed the tackle.
- Simply put, Sammy Watkins caught everything. He and Boyd were in sync all night long attacking the Maryland zone. The junior showcased a burst we’ve rarely seen in the past two seasons. He ran with a purpose and finished off plays by barreling ahead for extra yardage. He was absolutely dialed in all game long, as evidenced by a record-setting performance.
- I’m not sure Clemson’s offense can be as inept as it was on the second possession. After a pass interference call gave the Tigers 1st and goal at the 2, a pair of two-yard losses and a bad sack forced a field goal. The Terps did a good job of hiding a linebacker who was spying on Boyd on the 2nd down play, but 3rd down was all kinds of bad. Nobody blocked on the right side, Boyd faked left to no one, and McDowell’s attempt to stop three blitzers was obviously futile.
- The trendy narrative is that Clemson’s offensive line is playing poorly. I’d argue that’s a bit lazy—the pass blocking has been a struggle for the past month, but the run blocking was fine against Maryland until the box was stacked inside the red zone. Between the 20s, Clemson was able to get modest rushing yardage for much of the game.
- Not only was Jayron Kearse in perfect position to make his interception, but the freakish athleticism he showcased was stunning. Rowe couldn’t possibly have expected a safety to climb the ladder to pick that football off. The play couldn’t have come at a better time, either, as the defense seemed to be reeling a bit.
- Prior to his injury, I was really impressed with Zac Brooks’ vision and lateral quickness. It’s a shame he didn’t get to finish the game.
- Boyd took two sacks when Clemson had 2nd & 5 just inside the 20-yard-line at around the 5:00 mark in the second quarter. He had the opportunity to throw the ball away both times, taking a two-yard loss on the first one and a 10-yard loss on an intentional grounding call on the second. This is flat out unacceptable. It clearly cost the Tigers three critical points late in the first half.
- The first touchdown late in the first half was the result of beautiful play design. There were four backs in the backfield after some motion brought McDowell in motion. Boyd faked the sweep to McDowell, then Jordan Leggett leaked out toward the pylon on the back side of the play. Adam Humphries provided excellent cover with a stick route at the hash mark to hold a defensive back at bay. It was drawn up and executed to absolute perfection.
- On Maryland’s first possession of the second half, credit Clemson’s secondary for stepping up. Rowe took two shots down the field, both of which were broken up by Tiger DBs. I thought Maryland would try to take advantage down the field more in the first half when Bashaud Breeland was out of the game, but it seemed like they did the exact opposite.
- Don’t freak out about Watkins’ fumble. It was a good play by the defender to strip the ball.
- You can freak out about McDowell’s fumble. It was the same thing—a great play by a defender—but he should’ve secured the ball better running between the tackles.
- Much credit to the Tiger defense for only allowing six points after those two turnovers. The game could’ve radically changed at that point, but it didn’t.
- Boyd’s scramble at the 8:00 mark of the third quarter that gave the Tigers a first down inside the ten-yard line seemed to spark him a little bit. His rhythm seemed much better after that.
- A good pass rush wears down the opposing front and quarterback over the course of the game. Late in the third quarter, Clemson’s defensive line began to impose its will on the Terps’ offensive front. Rowe handled the pressure fairly well, but it was clear the Tigers began to control the game up front in crunch time.
- I don’t know this for a fact, but I think Mike Williams was to blame for the bad interception. He didn’t necessarily have a bad read—much like his read against Florida State that resulted in a bad-looking play—but it wasn’t the same good read that Boyd had. It looks like Williams is reading the cornerback, who stopped in an underneath zone, and maybe Boyd was reading the safety, who dropped into cover 2. Either way, those two guys need to get on the same page.
- On Rod McDowell’s touchdown run, I didn’t even care that he scored. Tyler Shatley pulled and pancaked a cornerback out of bounds in the end zone just as McDowell was crossing the goal line. For an offensive line that has been criticized heavily at times, the nastiness to finish a block was refreshing to see.
- The biggest issue with the Clemson running game this season has been the inability to break big runs. With that in mind, McDowell’s big touchdown run late in the game was nice to see. He showed great vision on the play. I’d be foolish not to credit downfield blocking as well.
- I don’t really care that much about the last two touchdowns Maryland scored. At that point, the Tigers were ready to go home. Don’t get me wrong—I credit the Terps for driving the ball and getting it into the end zone. But as far as long-range takeaways, I’m more impressed with not allowing a first down on six straight possessions after the interception in the end zone. That was the biggest thing to me.