A tale of two halves

CLEMSON – Saturday afternoon, Bashaud Breeland endured one of the lonelier experiences a college football player can face.

Clemson's junior starting cornerback was all suited up for the Tigers' game at Maryland, but when his teammates left the locker room to play the first half, Breeland sat alone.

He was serving a one-half suspension connected with his ejection from the Florida State game for a targeting foul on quarterback Jameis Winston, and there was nothing he could do about it.

No radio. No TV. Just his phone and a Clemson staffer offering periodic updates.

"I had my phone, had to listen to music on my phone," he said. "I didn't have anything to look at."

Once Breeland got in the game, he more than made up for lost time.

He finished with seven tackles, a key pass deflection and Clemson's biggest defensive play of the game, forcing a fumble that linebacker Spencer Shuey returned to the Terrapins' 22. Clemson cashed in the drive with a Tajh Boyd rushing score, turning a tight 19-13 lead into a two-score margin and providing some much-needed breathing room.

"I was just ready to get out there, to play with my teammates and help them win the game," he said. "But as far as thinking I needed to go out there and make a play? I let it come to me."

College football's new "targeting" rule – designed to make the game safer – has become a lightning rod for debate this fall. Under the new rules, if a player is believed to have targeted an opponent by leading with his head and making helmet-to-helmet contact, a 15-yard penalty is assessed, he is ejected from the game and suspended for the next game.

The ejection can be reversed by booth review, but the 15-yard penalty stands regardless.

Breeland's hit on Winston was upheld, and since there was a half remaining, he only had to serve half of the Tigers' next game, at Maryland.

He agreed with the ejection by the letter of the rule, but said the rule was "kind of iffy." He had no intention of hitting Winston high, but changed his trajectory after leaving his feet, which Breeland said caused the hit.

Did it impact how he tackled against Maryland? Of course.

"I'm trying to really wrap up instead of going for the big shot," he said. "Making a form tackle, hitting my head on the right side of the ball."

Doing so, Breeland said, is more difficult than you might think.

"It is hard," he said. "You have to think more than just react. As a defensive player, you're trained just to react to what the offense is doing. Now you have to think about how you have to attack, how you have to get him down and at the same time thinking about the play you're trying to execute."

Making the big play - and the right play – against Maryland was a sweet reward for his patience.

"It felt pretty good to come out and have the impact on the game I had. I wanted to just play, get him down," he said. "I wasn't trying to strip the ball. It just happened."

It was just another special moment in what has been a solid junior season. Following offseason surgery to repair a groin injury that hampered his sophomore year, Breeland has rebounded in a big way. He has 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

"It has been the highest level I've been playing at," he said. "I've had to deal with injuries over the past year, and as a freshman, I had to come in and get adjusted to the speed of the game. I really couldn't perform as well as I wanted to. My preparation and drive to be back from the injury has propelled me to this level."

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