Maryland enters the contest on a three game winning streak and is 3-2 overall. The Terrapins lost the season opener at Northern Illinois (20-13) before falling in their ACC conference opener at Florida State (35-10). Maryland rebounded by winning home games versus The Citadel (61-0) and West Virginia (34-7) in addition to last week's win at Eastern Michigan (37-13).
Clemson holds a 27-22-2 advantage in the series with Maryland. However, Maryland has won each of the last two games. Clemson had won eight in a row and 13 of 14 prior to Ralph Friedgen's return to Maryland.
Here are my 5 Keys to Clemson getting a huge ACC win in College Park Saturday.
Let's Get Physical
Clemson has played only one game this year where the opponent smacked us in the face on both sides of the ball and that was the season opener versus Georgia. And, of course, we know the result of that game all too well.
Georgia Tech, while not as talented or deep as Georgia, presented Clemson an opportunity to be challenged physically two weeks ago. Tech was not as tough as Georgia, but the Yellow Jackets were tougher than MTSU and Furman. The Tigers responded by whipping the Yellow Jackets on both lines of scrimmage for 4 quarters.
Georgia Tech is not as good as Maryland on either side of the ball. Maryland will attempt to bully Clemson similar to what they have done the past two years. If Clemson cannot respond to the aggressive play of Maryland similar to the Georgia game, the Tigers will suffer the same fate this weekend.
Maryland will try and muscle up on both lines of scrimmage and hit Clemson squarely in the face. The Terps will also man up to our receivers and try to break the rhythm and flow the Tigers had against Georgia Tech. It will be a vital area of concern for Clemson who must find a way to shake the "soft" label that has followed this team for the last 5 years. That does not mean Clemson needs to take on the persona of an Ohio State to win Saturday. But, toughness is needed if the Tigers are going to steal a road conference win over Maryland on Saturday.
A Running Question
Both teams have question marks entering the game in terms of their running game. On Clemson's side of the ball, the Tigers have given up on establishing the run before they start throwing the ball around. Clemson does not appear to have a running back or a game plan that will allow for a 100 yard rusher in any game this year. Regardless, the Tigers have got to find a way to keep Maryland from forgetting about the running game or else the Tigers will have a hard time giving Charlie Whitehurst time to throw. Add to the fact that Maryland is giving up only 123 yards a game on the ground, and the Tigers' task grows a little stiffer.
Bruce Perry continues to be banged up and there are rumblings out of College Park that he won't even play Saturday. I don't buy that for one second, but Perry is obviously not the same running back that he was two years ago. The Terps are averaging 185 yards a game on the ground, led by Josh Allen with 329 yards rushing in the 5 games. Forcing Maryland into a one dimensional attack (similar to Georgia Tech) will go a long way in winning the battle on the defensive side of the ball. If Maryland can run the ball for their average this Saturday, it is hard for me to envision a Clemson win. A 100% healthy Bruce Perry scares me, but I don't think that is what we are going to get. Instead, we get a somewhat healthy Perry and Josh Allen… can we stop them?
One of the chess matches Saturday will be whether Maryland stays in its base 3-4 scheme against the three and four wide sets Clemson employs at times. Maryland is not a "traditional" 3-4 team in that they will sneak Jamahl Cochran up onto the line of scrimmage at times in addition to dropping him back like a traditional linebacker. In any 3-4 scheme, you must have great linebackers to make the system work. And, Maryland has great linebackers.
D'Qwell Jackson (61 tackles, 3 for a loss and 1 sack), Leon Joe (45 tackles), Leroy Ambush (20 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and 1 sack), and Cochran (18 tackles) are good enough to control the game on the defensive side of the ball. Maryland may choose to send the linebackers to try and pressure Whitehurst into mistakes (similar to last year). They also may elect to have these linebackers play some bubble zone coverage's and make Whitehurst find the open receivers.
In either case, Clemson must account for these guys on every play. If they are coming at Charlie, the offensive lineman and running backs must be able to pick up the blitz. If they drop into coverage, Whitehurst must deliver the ball to Clemson's speedy receivers and give them a chance to beat the Terp linebackers man on man.
I expect we will see a little of both from Maryland Saturday and Whitehurst will have to make sure he is aware of when they are coming. In addition, their may be some opportunities for the running backs to get to the corners via running plays or dump screens. In either event, the Big 4 for Maryland will have a huge hand in how successful Clemson will be in moving the football.
Maryland has put the ball on the ground 10 times in 5 games to start the season, with 6 of them being recovered by the opposition. Add the 3 interceptions to the mix, and Maryland is turning the ball over 2 times a game on average.
The flip side of that is the Terps have not been able to create turnovers. Maryland has yet to recover a fumble and have snagged only 4 interceptions. That means the Terps are not even averaging one turnover per game from the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, the Terps are very similar on the defensive side of the ball in relation to forcing turnovers to Clemson. While Maryland has forced only 4 total turnovers in 5 games, Clemson has only forced 3 total turnovers in 4 games.
The difference seems to lie in the fact that the Clemson offense has done a better job protecting the ball than Maryland. While Maryland has turned the ball over a total of 9 times in 5 games, Clemson only has 4 turnovers in 4 games.
Advantage…Clemson. But previous weeks stats don't necessarily equate to this weeks success. On paper Clemson should win the turnover battle. Let's see if we can.
Roar Out Of The Gate
Maryland has hit the ground running in their first 5 games by outscoring their opponents 54-10 in the first quarter. The Tigers, on the other hand, have only scored 23 points in the 1st quarter in the first 4 games combined.
Clemson seems to hit their stride in the 2nd quarter, where the Tigers have scored a whopping 55 points to the opponents 20 points. Clemson also has shown a consistent lack of point production in the 2nd half all season long, only scoring 26 total points after halftime.
If Maryland runs out to a fast start on Clemson, the Tigers will be forced to play catch up in the 2nd quarter or else face the daunting task of coming back on the road in the 2nd half against an ACC opponent. However, if Clemson can turn the corner and shut down the Terps early while building a lead, the 2nd quarter could offer the Tigers a chance to put Maryland away similar to Georgia Tech.
Remember, the pressure still falls on Maryland because they have lost an ACC game and they still consider themselves ACC Championship contenders. A 2nd loss will eliminate them from that race, and falling behind may put some added pressure on a Terrapin team desperate for a win in conference. Taking an early lead on Maryland would go a long way in getting this win Saturday.
I am a terrible 2-2 on the season in picking the winner of the Clemson games. My most recent embarrassment came 2 weeks ago when I picked Georgia Tech to beat the Tigers in Atlanta.
But, I must amble on and pick these games by looking at the data instead of my emotions or past disappointments in the prognostication department.
Ralph Friedgen has been borderline genius versus Clemson dating back to his days at Georgia Tech and following through to Maryland. Having two weeks to prepare for Maryland will be a big benefit for Clemson, but how big?
I feel confident Clemson can win in College Park. I feel confident that Clemson can achieve all of the above keys to the game. I feel confident that Clemson can play at the same level as it did against Georgia Tech.
I feel it but I don't believe it….yet. This team is still one big win away Saturday from convincing me to be a believer. I was burnt too many times the last two years to get prematurely suckered into feeling great about this team. I want to feel it, mind you. And maybe I will on Saturday night.
But today I say…
Maryland 24 Clemson 14
5 Keys To Taming The Terps
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