There are two sides to this story: 1) The good: Clemson piled up 540 total yards and 40 points-- on the road. The Tigers also had a 160+ yard rusher and 160+ yard receiver in the same game for the first time in school history. And 2) The bad: the red zone offense, which was woeful... plus the offensive line, which struggled. Lastly, let us not forget the three turnovers- all of which were back-breaking. Watching the game initially, it was felt as if the Tigers could do no right on this side of the ball. Upon further review, it wasn't nearly as bad as it seemed. Clemson clearly was suffering from an emotional hangover after the loss to Florida State, but it found a way to overcome it in the win. Tajh Boyd struggled at times, but still completed 68 percent of his passes for over 300 yards and a touchdown-- with an injured ankle and knee. It is becoming clear this unit isn't as explosive as it was a year ago, but it's still very difficult to defend. The red zone issues must be solved and the inconsistency on the offensive line remains a problem. Doing so would allow this unit to find its rhythm once again because right now it clearly is missing it.
After yielding just seven first-half points on a poor angle taken by Travis Blanks on a 71-yard touchdown pass, the defense settled in quite nicely. While it must be noted Maryland was playing without two of the top wide receivers in the league in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, not to mention QB C.J. Brown, the Tigers generally made the Terps uncomfortable with their defense. Vic Beasley recorded three more tackles for loss, including his 10th sack of the season and a forced fumble. Bashaud Breeland also forced a critical fumble with the game still in doubt and Jayron Kearse thwarted another scoring threat with a leaping interception in the end zone late in the first half. Maryland ended the contest with 364 yards of total offense, but just 82 on the ground. The defense was most impressive when having to deal with two second-half turnovers committed by the offense deep in Clemson territory. Again, the concern at safety continues to be legitimate and if the Tigers have any hopes of running the table, the back end of this defense has to get better.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Chandler Catanzaro returned to his All-American form by converting on all four of his field goal attempts, all of which had to contend with a swirling wind. Bradley Pinion was fairly solid, producing three touchbacks on nine kickoffs and averaging 37 yards per punt. Adam Humphries fumbled a punt but didn't turn it over. The fumble prevents the 'A' grade but overall this unit was solid once again.
It was understood Clemson would suffer from an emotional hangover of sorts entering this game and it felt like that was the case for the better part of the first half. Still, the Tigers put 40 points on the road and left Byrd Stadium for the final time as winners. The team wasn't flat- which is a credit to the coaches. And the game plan on both sides of the ball was solid. The red zone offense certainly needs to get better and the concern at safety is as real as ever but any reasonable fan would have gladly taken a 13-point win entering Saturday.
Recovering from the first loss of the season is never easy and Saturday was no exception. Clemson was clearly battling itself early, but settled down in enough time to secure the win. At the end of the day, all that mattered was Clemson somehow found a way to win its seventh game of the year and it did. Next week, the Tigers return to Charlottesville, Va. for the first time in five years to face 2-6 Virginia. The Cavs, while somewhat of a mystery under Mike London the last two seasons, were within a score of Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter this past weekend and also beat BYU at home earlier in the year. Clemson should be better mentally this week coming off a win but Virginia will present different problems and could potentially be playing for London's job. It's easy to write Clemson just needs to find a way to win the game so it will climb higher in the BCS rankings and that's all that matters. Sure - on some level that's true. But digging deeper it's obvious this team is still searching for a rhythm of sorts. It may not need it to beat UVa or Georgia Tech or The Citadel, but it will to win at South Carolina at the end of the year. And like it or not, the overall success of the season could very well come down to that game.
GRADES: Was it that bad?
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