GRADES: Tigers pound hapless Terps

CLEMSON - The Tigers take control early in a sound whipping of Maryland Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.

The Tigers didn't run the ball well, but they didn't have to. Clemson took to the air and found early success as Tajh Boyd found Brandon Ford, Nuk Hopkins and Adam Humphries for scores. Boyd didn't throw an interception in the game, but he did fumble deep in Maryland territory in the second- and that can't happen in the coming weeks. He ended up with 261 yards through the air, and three touchdowns - which amounts to another strong performance. Backup QB Cole Stoudt also received valuable playing time late, and completed a touchdown pass to Stanton Seckinger. It wasn't the best performance of the season by this group by any stretch, but they still grinded out more than 430 yards of offense and won comfortably.

The defense figured to have the upper hand Saturday and it did, giving up only 180 total yards and just one of 13 conversions on third down. With Maryland down to its fifth string quarterback Shawn Petty, there was a steady dose of draws, QB keepers and zone-read plays. For the most part, Clemson was able to keep him Petty and the ground game in check. The lone scores the Terps could muster were off of a fumbled punt return deep in Clemson territory and a field goal return of 70-plus yards. Corey Crawford also returned a fumble 16 yards for a score to help spark a 21-point first quarter. It was another step in the right direction for a defense that is now showing significant improvement since September. And hey - it's now been more than a month since Clemson has given up over 20 points in a game.

The muffed punt by Adam Humphries proved costly. There was also a low snap on a punt that Spencer Benton was able to gather and pin the Terps deep in their own territory. Benton would later miss a field goal that was returned nearly 80 yards - setting up another score. All in all, it was a disappointing day for what normally is a solid unit.

Clemson was a heavy favorite entering the game and was in control from the very beginning. Once again the staff was able to avoid the letdown and once the Tigers won big. With one more game remaining before arch rival South Carolina comes to town, it's clear the mentality of this program has changed under Dabo Swinney. No longer should fans fear road trips to Duke and Wake Forest. No longer should a wounded team like Maryland be deemed dangerous traveling to Death Valley. The main area needing fixing this coming week in practice will be special teams.

With Saturday's win over the Terps, the Tigers are now 9-1, which means Clemson is off to its best start in nearly 20 years. With another victory next week against N.C. State, Clemson will clinch its second 10-win season in as many years. Not bad. But bigger things are on the horizon. The overall success of the season will largely be dictated by what happens in the next two weeks - and that means beating N.C. State and South Carolina. Clemson has avoided the let down game in 2012, but more difficult challenges await versus the Wolfpack, and especially Gamecocks. The countdown is on. Top Stories