Plenty of work to do after sluggish win

The Clemson coaches talked all week about how they went back to the basics and focused on fundamentals after the team's loss to Florida State.

It looks like they need to put in a little more work on the red-zone offense.

Clemson won 40-27 on Saturday, and that shouldn't be overlooked. But it also shouldn't be overlooked how poorly the Tigers played on offense against a Maryland team that has been depleted by injuries.

Most of those problems were showcased in the red zone. The Tigers ran the ball up and down the field throughout Saturday's game to the tune of 540 yards of total offense.

But when they got to the red zone, they decided to show off all their warts: an offensive line that couldn't get any push on running plays, missed assignments and mistake after mistake on fundamentals. It was ugly as the Tigers finished with just three touchdowns in their eight trips into the red zone.

Things were especially rough in the first half as Clemson got into the red zone five times and had to settle for three Chandler Catanzaro field goals before finally getting a touchdown at the end of the half. So a game that should have been a blowout at the half was instead 16-7.

And that was the theme of the day: The game was much closer than it ever should have been. If Clemson had taken advantage of its opportunities, it could have had an easy day instead of having to work so hard to pull out a sluggish victory. The Tigers had another field goal on their first red-zone trip of the second half but then finally put the game out of reach with two red-zone touchdowns after that. But against a Maryland team that was playing a lot of second- and third-team players because of injury, this game shouldn't have been that close or that much of a chore to get through.

But Clemson's recent offensive struggles – an inconsistent Tajh Boyd at quarterback, not much of a running game and an offensive line that just can't create holes – all came to light in the red zone. Those things need to be fixed if Clemson's goals that are still on the table – winning out, beating South Carolina, going to a BCS bowl – are going to be reached.

Slow start to second half
Leading by nine (again, it should have been more), Clemson likely wanted to make a statement coming out of the locker room for the second half and put the game away.

Instead, things went the opposite way.

Clemson's first five offensive plays of the third quarter resulted in a three-and-out on the first drive and fumbles by Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell on the first play of the next two drives. That's not exactly the statement the offense wanted to make.

But that allowed the Clemson defense to make a statement of its own: It was going to win this game while the offense continued to sputter. After the Watkins fumble, the Terrapins lost a yard on three plays and settled for a field goal. After the McDowell fumble, the Terrapins did manage to gain 3 yards, but another three-and-out forced by the Clemson defense led to another field goal.

So the score stood Clemson 16, Maryland 13. But Maryland could have taken the lead right there after the three awful possessions by the Clemson offense.

Throughout the second half, Maryland had several drives with a chance to tie or take the lead and the Clemson defense stayed strong each time. The Terrapins got two touchdowns in the final six minutes, but the game was all but over by then. It was a solid bounce-back performance by a defense that looked lost last week against Florida State. Outside of an awful mistake by the secondary on the Terrapins' first score on a 71-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, the defense played pretty well albeit against a banged-up and shorthanded Maryland offense.

Up next
Clemson played in a pretty depressing environment Saturday at Byrd Stadium. It only holds 54,000, and there were about 48,000 fans there if you believe "official" attendance numbers.

The Tigers will have to get themselves up for another road trip this week. Virginia is struggling mightily, and the Cavaliers' head coach, Mike London, might be coaching for his job especially after a terrible performance Saturday against Georgia Tech. London gambled a few times in that game, and they all went against the Cavaliers, leaving them sitting at 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the ACC.

So there likely won't be much atmosphere at Scott Stadium for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff. That's something the Tigers will need to be prepared for as they look to find their rhythm after three straight weeks of struggles.

If Clemson can figure out its red-zone problems and some of the other things that have caused it to be sluggish for three straight weeks, it's a game it should win easily.

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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