Time to bounce back

Saturday night marked as disappointing a performance as we've seen from a Clemson football team in a while.

Not because it was a bad loss to a team the Tigers should have defeated.

But because it was a big-time chance for the Tigers to show what they can do, and they didn't do that.

Granted, Florida State had a lot to with that, and it will be a surprise if the Seminoles aren't playing for a BCS championship in January. Yes, there is a lot of the season still to play, and the Seminoles still have to face Miami and rival Florida, but Florida State looked like the best team in the land Saturday.

Clemson looked like a team that's not quite ready to make that next step. The Tigers aren't as bad as they showed Saturday, but they're not as good as the Seminoles, either.

I've had a lot of people ask me how what happened Saturday happened. The answer is simple. When two good teams play and one plays awful while the other one is prepared perfectly and plays terrific football, you can end up with 51-14. So the Tigers aren't on the Seminoles' level. We saw that in full effect Saturday night on national TV.

But the Clemson season isn't over. Last year, Clemson lost to Florida State – although it was a much more competitive game – and the Tigers responded to that disappointment and finished with 11 wins.

There's no reason to believe they can't do the same this year, but they have to play better than they have the past two weeks.

The offense has hit a funk in the win over Boston College and the loss to Florida State. That unit has to overcome the mistakes it is making and get back on a roll.

The defense played well against Boston College and had for most of the season. But in the toughest test to date, the defense failed badly. There was no pressure on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, and the coverage on the back end was even worse.

Those mistakes can't continue to happen if the Tigers are going to bounce back. And they need to do just that to have a third straight strong season.

That begins Saturday at Maryland.

Clemson leads the all-time series 33-26-2 and has won three straight in a series of streaks. Maryland won the first four, starting in 1952, while Clemson then had a six-game streak from 1966-71.

That was followed directly by a six-game streak by Maryland.

In the 1980s, Clemson won five straight and then topped that by winning eight straight from 1993-2000.

In fact, only twice in the series has Clemson won a single game at a time – a win in 1978 was part of a run when Maryland won eight years out of nine, while a win in 2007 came when the Terrapins won three out of four years.

The Tigers, however, ended that short run with a 31-7 win in 2010 and won easily – 45-10 – last year.

There are a few games against Maryland that stand out through the years, but four really do since I've been following the Tigers since 1975.

The first came in 1978. Clemson was 9-1 and ranked 12th, while Maryland was 9-2 and ranked 11th. Clemson won 28-24 with Lester Brown scoring the winning touchdown, while Jerry Butler and Dwight Clark caught touchdown passes of 87 and 62 yards, respectively, as the Tigers won their first ACC championship since 1967.

The next one came in 1983. Clemson was on probation, so it couldn't win the ACC title. That went to Maryland, and the Terrapins players talked all week about how they were the real conference champions and would prove that against Clemson. The fans at Memorial Stadium released more than 360,000 balloons as the Tigers came charging down The Hill before the game.

The team made quick work of Boomer Esiason and the Terrapins as Mike Eppley led the offense to 52 points in a 25-point win. The Tigers finished 9-1-1 that season, including 7-0 in the ACC.

In 1985, Clemson lost 34-31 on a horrendous call by the officials at the end of the game, awarding a catch and game-winning touchdown on a play that was clearly an incomplete pass (it would be overturned by replay today), and Danny Ford let the officials know exactly how upset he was by the call, which helped Maryland win the conference title. Ford's reaction was so bad, the ACC decided, that he was suspended for the teams' game in 1986, which ended up in a tie.

And then two years ago, Clemson went to College Park with a 6-0 record and a No. 8 ranking. Maryland dominated early and led 28-10 in the second quarter and then again by 18 points, 35-17, after a touchdown early in the third quarter.

But the Tigers – mainly Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins – responded and ended up with a 56-45 win. Boyd finished with 270 passing yards and four touchdowns while Watkins caught eight balls for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 7:24 left, and then Andre Ellington, who rushed for 212 yards, clinched it with a 44-yard scoring run. Those Tigers ended up losing a few games down the stretch, but they also won the ACC title, helped by their road win over the Terrapins.

An ACC title might be a long shot this year, mainly because it doesn't look like Florida State will lose to a conference team (much less lose the two conference the Tigers need them to lose), but there is still a great season to be had for the Tigers. And that starts with Saturday's trip to College Park.

The Tigers need to bounce back and bounce back quickly, take down the Terrapins and get back on track.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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