The Final Breakdown

Clemson's road to the 2011 ACC Championship makes a detour through College Park, Md. on Saturday night.

WHAT: No. 8 Clemson at Maryland
WHERE: Byrd Stadium (54,000) - College Park, Md.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 15 (7:02 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -8.5

This game scares the heck out of Clemson fans, and for good reason, too. After all, it was only two years ago when Maryland knocked off Clemson 24-21.

That 2-3 start in 2009 could have been the beginning of the end for head coach Dabo Swinney. Instead, he and the Tigers closed the season with six-straight wins en route to the school's first-ever ACC title game.

Clemson [6-0, 3-0 ACC] enters this week's game at Byrd Stadium as the No. 8 team in the country. Meanwhile Maryland, led by first-year head coach Randy Edsall has struggled out of the game [2-3, 1-1 ACC].

A win keeps Clemson in the discussion for the national title when the first BCS rankings are unveiled next week.

A loss won't knock Clemson out of the race for another ACC Atlantic title, but it sure would makes things difficult, especially with North Carolina and Georgia Tech up next on the schedule.

Here's a look at what to expect Saturday night at Byrd Stadium:

Danny O'Brien, the 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year and 2011 preseason All-ACC quarterback, has struggled under first-year offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.

A season ago, O'Brien completed 192 of 337 passes for 2,438 with 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. This year, he's connected on 97 of 156 throws for 930 yards with four touchdowns and six picks.

C.J. Brown gives the Terps a dual-threat quarterback Saturday night if he gets the start in place of Danny O'Brien. (Getty Images)
Now a redshirt sophomore, O'Brien was actually pulled in the second quarter last week against Georgia Tech and replaced by C.J. Brown. Brown hasn't faired much better through the air, but has connected on 10 of 24 passes for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

The Terrapins' passing yards have steadily declined each week this season.

Against Miami, Maryland threw for 348 yards.

Then, it was 289 against West Virginia, 195 against Temple, 137 against Towson and 87 against Georgia Tech.

Clearly, O'Brien has not been on top of his game in the up-tempo spread offense, which is distinctly different from the west-coast system employed a season ago.

Only Troy and Florida State have thrown for over 200 yards against Clemson, and the Tigers have also registered an interception in every game this season.

Numbers-wise, Clemson's pass rush stumbled through the first quarter of the season. Over the last three games, the Tigers have nine sacks.

Andre Branch and company will have their work cut out for them against a Maryland offensive line that's allowed less than a sack a game. Unfortunately for the Terrapins, left guard Andrew Gonnella was lost for the season after suffering a dislocated knee in Atlanta last weekend.

Branch will draw an interesting matchup with sophomore left tackle Max Garcia, who was highly sought after by Clemson during the 2010 signing haul.

Simply put, the Tigers' starters along the defensive line is more talented than any other starting group the Terrapins have encountered this season. Whoever's playing quarterback will have to deal with plenty of pocket pressure.

These days, that can be all you need.

Plus, Maryland averages just 5.8 yards per pass.


All reports from the Clemson camp suggest Tajh Boyd is just fine and ready to roll after straining his left hip against Boston College. He missed practice on Monday, but was back for the rest of the week, and didn't miss a rep from Tuesday on.

The Maryland secondary has managed to put up decent numbers through five games this season. The Terrapins' pass efficiency defense is 46th in the country with a with a 122.7 rating. Their pass defense ranks 44th nationally with 210.8 yards per game.

But those statistics are somewhat skewed.

Tajh Boyd has been given a clean bill of health and will get the start Saturday night. (Roy Philpott)
Aside from West Virginia, which put up 388 yards, there hasn't been much to speak of, in terms of defending the pass.

A depleted Miami only team threw for 195 yards.

Run-happy Temple put up 140.

Towson had 217.

The usually-grounded Yellow Jackets had 114.

The only passing touchdown came from West Virginia.

Boyd is likely to find a couple of Clemson receivers for six points on Saturday night. The Tigers' passing offense, which is 23rd nationally at 297.67 yards a game, has 15 touchdowns, all thrown by Clemson's starting quarterback.

It sure makes things easier when he's throwing to explosive freshmen like Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and veterans like DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown.

If 'star' linebacker Kenny Tate is a go, his matchup on Dwayne Allen should be one of the marquee one-on-ones to watch. Tate was a 2010 All-ACC selection at safety. He's 11th in the ACC with 8.8 tackles per game. He sat out last week's Georgia Tech game with a leg injury.

Defensive end David Mackall leads all Maryland defenders with three sacks.

After tearing an ACL in high school, Boyd proved he can play with a serious injury -- take a look at his performance in the Army All-American game. So even if he is still in pain, the redshirt sophomore can tough it out.


Even though Maryland has struggled to throw the ball, the Terrapins have had a fair amount of success rushing, led by Davin Meggett, the son of former NFL running back Dave Meggett. So far he has a team-high 413 yards this season. His 82.6 yards per game is fifth-best among ACC ball carriers.

Brandon Thompson has led a resurgence in Clemson's front seven the last two games. (Roy Philpott)
Second on the team is Brown, who picked up most of his 153 yards against Georgia Tech last weekend, and a bulk of those came on a 77-yard touchdown scamper. If Brown does see time under center for Maryland, there will be plenty of zone-read calls and quarterback designed runs.

Here we go, back to the Clemson defensive line.

Brandon Thompson continues to stuff the run and affect opposing teams' running games without even being near the ball carrier. He's third on the team with 34 tackles, and probably first in plays called specifically to go away from him.

Ahead of him in tackles are Branch [40] and weak-side linebacker Jonathan Willard [39].

Nationally, Maryland ranks 51st with 165.6 yards rushing a game.

Defensively, Clemson is 72nd with 160.33 yards per contest.

The loss of Gonnella could have a big impact on the success Maryland has running the ball over the last half of the season. All the more reason to give the nod to the visiting team.

Clemson's front four, again, play a big part in winning this matchup.


The reemergence of Andre Ellington continues. His 22 carries for 117 yard and a touchdown against Boston College was exactly what he needed to get back on track, and he'll have yet another opportunity for a 100-yard or more performance.

Meanwhile Maryland has given up over 160 yards to all but one opponent this season. Only the sling-it-around-the-lot passing attack of West Virginia didn't rush for over 100 yards.

Andre Ellington could find bigger holes in front against a Maryland defense that has struggled against the run game in 2011. (Getty Images)
Three players have already topped the century mark this year working against the Maryland defense.

Miami running back Lamar Miller carried 18 times for 119 yards and a score, Temple's Bernard Pierece had 32 carries for 149 yards and five touchdowns, and Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington rushed 32 times for 120 yards and two scores.

Defensively, the Terps have three players to generally keep an eye on, but at least one is out Saturday night.

Maryland weak-side linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield leads the team with 51 tackles and is tied for second with 3.5 tackles for loss. He's also tied for second among all ACC defenders with 10.2 tackles per game.

But Hartsfield is out (lower-body). And Maryland's latest depth chart, released Monday, freshman Alex Twine is listed as Hartsfield's backup at the WILL linebacker slot.

Tate, who's in his first-year as a linebacker, has struggled making the transition from safety. Still, he's ninth in the conference with 8.8 tackles per game.

Tate is doubtful.

Defensive tackle Joe Vellano is coming off a 20 tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

As a whole, though, it's a young group. In the front seven's two-deep depth chart, six of the players are freshmen.

Clemson's veteran front should be able to clear plenty of room for Ellington, D.J. Howard and Mike Bellamy. At least one should be able to gain 100 yards.


Clemson kicker Chandler Catanzaro has been money this season. Of his 12 attempts, he has just two misses. Furthermore, his 1.67 field goals per game is tied for 14th amongst all kickers in the country.

Field goals haven't been as easy to come by for Maryland. Nick Ferrara is 6 of 9 with a long from 32.

Clemson's return game has been lackluster this season. Could a trip to Maryland change that? (Roy Philpott)
The Maryland kickoff team has allowed 25.46 yards per return this season, which is among the worst 10 in the country. Clemson's kickoff team, which will have Dawson Zimmerman handling this week's duties, has allowed 18.5 yards per return.

Maryland's punt defense has allowed 13 yards per return, which 104th, nationally.

Kick return-wise, the Terrapins aren't much better. They're 103rd in the country with 19.35 yards per return. The Tigers' average of 19.5 is 102nd.

This could be the week where Clemson shakes loose in the return game. Assuming things go according to our projection, there won't be many chances for kick returns.

Edge, again, to the Tigers.


PREDICTION: Clemson 31 Maryland 10 Top Stories