Mood of the Team
After talking to 7 players this week in one-on-one interviews, one thing became apparent to me: This team still feels like it has a lot to prove, and that's good. There is no over confidence, there is no sense of satisfaction lingering from their win in Atlanta. This team is hungry and ready to take the field against a team that they know will present a stiffer challenge than Georgia Tech.
All of the players remember the atmosphere the last time these two teams faced off in Maryland, (the throwing of the oranges, name calling, etc) and many are using that as motivation for this week's game.
As far as the off week goes, I do feel as though it may break some of the momentum established in this three game winning streak, but only temporarily. This was another question that I posed to nearly everyone I talked to, and the general consensus was that the off week came at a great time becuase it gave some of the work horses of this team, John Leak, Airese Currie, Charlie Whitehurst, Kevin Youngblood, and a whole host of other players, time to heal and rest.
Problems in the Past
There's no doubt, Maryland has been a thorn in the side of head coach Tommy Bowden in each of the last two seasons, but why? Why has Maryland been able to run up the score on Clemson both in 2001 and 2002? The answer is simple- it's missed assignments. I posed that question to several players this week, even if it was the only question I asked. Each one could almost individually point to a particular play in which a blown assignment was the primary cause for a touchdown, a turnover, or a big play that went against Clemson.
DeJuan Polk and J.J. Howard, two starters on the defensive line, were the guys that insisted this was true throughout each of the last two games.
"It wasn't anything they were doing, it was what we were doing to ourselves. That's how it been against those guys," said Polk.
"We have been working hard to correct those problems all week- getting ready for all of the formations they like to run. We're going to be alright," Polk added with a grin.
What to Expect
Offensively, it will be imperative for the Tigers to block big defensive tackle Randy Starks, who could be the most intimidating player on the Maryland defense. How they will do it is a bit unclear, but I imagine that he'll be double teamed in many instances. If anything, the Tigers plan on running away from Starks in the ground game and blocking him like mad when Whitehurst goes back to pass. One of the biggest, if not the biggest keys of the game is giving Charlie Whitehurst time to throw the ball. I think he's proven that if you give him time, he's going move the chains, and put points on the board.
As predicted throughout the last few weeks, Duane Coleman will likely get the start in the backfield in College Park. Coleman gives the Tigers the greatest threat to score and he also has a more size than Kyle Browning. With the physical nature of the Maryland defense, that should come in handy Saturday afternoon.
Defensively, you have to stop the Maryland ground attack, as the Terrapins come into this one ranked first in the ACC in rushing yards per game. Unfortunately, this where the Tigers will likely encounter problems. Clemson hasn't fared well against big, physical teams like Maryland in the past.
The ultimate key here could very well lie in the health of running back Bruce Perry. Perry was unable to go in the second half against Eastern Michigan, but he appears to be ready to step back onto the first team this Saturday.
Scott McBrien is an efficient quarterback who has just enough arm strength and just enough mobility to give defensive coordinator John Lovett headaches with his gameplan. However, the West Virginia is not a quarterback that can be depended on to dominate a game. If the Tigers were somehow to force the Terrapins to play catch up Saturday, McBrien isn't necessarily the best at putting points on the board in bunches via the pass.
I think the overall expectations from most of people I talked to seem to point to one thing- a close game. This contest won't be another blowout by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, no sir. If Charlie Whitehurst has time to throw the football and isn't pounded to the turf like he was last year against Maryland, when he finished the game 12-of-26 passing for 130 yards, then Clemson will every opportunity to win this football game.
Player to Watch
Three weeks ago, we told you to keep your eye on John Leake, two weeks ago in Atlanta, we told you to watch Toure Francis. This week, it's none other than Justin Miller. He's getting tired of answering questions about when he's going to get his first interception of the season, and rightfully so. The media has hounded him about his sophomore season from the get go.
While it's impossible to predict an interception for him in this game, I just have a sneaking suspension that he's going to make a big play in this game. Whether it's on defense or on special teams, or a trick play...keep your eye on this preseason All-American.
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