Clemson rolled up 300 yards rushing and nearly 600 yards of total offense - but the bulk of that came after a surprisingly slow start. The Tigers trailed Maryland 14-3 as Tajh Boyd threw his first career pick-six midway through the first quarter. At the time, it was clear Maryland meant business. Fortunately, Clemson had an answer. Andre Ellington rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns and Boyd rebounded to throw four touchdown passes while also becoming the first starting quarterback in school history to win his first seven games under center. The offensive line opened holes all night long and despite the fact the Tigers got away from the running game late in the first half and trailed by 18 points - it eventually all came together for Chad Morris and company. Then there's Sammy Watkins - quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year with his performance Saturday night. 56 total points should be enough to beat any team on the schedule - and it was just enough for the Tigers in this one.
C.J. Brown got the start for the Terps at quarterback, and he ran through Clemson's defense all night long. By the end of the game, Brown amassed nearly 175 yards rushing and was executing the zone-read nearly perfectly. Still, Clemson's defense played better down the stretch, especially after Bashaud Breeland brought in his first career interception early in the third quarter. Credit the Tigers for a couple of late stops on fourth down after taking the lead, but it's important to point out those situations were setup by a couple of crucial Maryland drops. Also, Clemson's front four seemed to confused at times throughout the first half. As a result, Malliciah Goodman spent the majority of the second half on the bench while Kourtnei Brown secured major snaps. The only reason the failing grade is avoided here is because the Tigers found a way to win and the defense played better down the stretch. Otherwise it was a rough night for Kevin Steele's unit. While fans don't like to do this, credit the Terps and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton for giving Brown the keys to the offense and making it work. He'll give defenses in the ACC fits the rest of the year if he continues to play like this.
Clemson's defense struggled until a late surged helped pave the way for the comeback win. (Roy Philpott)
Sammy Watkins had five kick returns for over 200 yards and a touchdown. Chandler Catanzaro was perfect on his two field goals and all of his extra points. Punter Dawson Zimmerman also did a nice job flipping the field early on as well. The only two mishaps came on Watkins' fumbled punt and the confusion on the opening kickoff which gave Clemson poor field position. He more than made up for it later on, however. Hence, the "A" grade.
The offense continues to operate at a pace we've simply never seen at Clemson. With players such as Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, Dwayne Allen and Tajh Boyd, all playing behind a veteran offensive line- the sky is the limit. While the defense has been up and down, it's obvious the Tigers can simply outscore the opposition when needed. Dabo Swinney's message to his team at halftime, with Clemson trailing 28-17, was to simply calm down, and it worked. The Tigers' third-year head coach seems to be pushing all the buttons right now and the end result equals a 7-0 start to the season. Not bad.
The offense played one of its most impressive games of the year while the defense clearly regressed from consecutive strong performances. Special teams saved the day on a number of occasions, but only after a couple of bobbled kicks helped bury the Tigers in an early hole. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game was the fact Clemson simply found a way to win a game on the road when it wasn't playing well. Maryland isn't a great team, but the Terps did beat Miami this year and were awfully close to coming back to top West Virginia and Georgia Tech. And in previous years, the Tigers not only would have lost a game like this - they would have likely been blown out. Not in 2011. The dream season continues as Clemson remains part of the National Championship picture and awaits to see where it will be ranked tonight in the initial BCS standings.