Here is how I graded the Tigers on my 5 Keys To The Game.
Let's Get Physical
OK…let's start with the positives. Our receivers are as tough as any receivers in the league. They continued to get battered on slants and curls yet hold onto the football most of the time in spite of that. Charlie Whitehurst, despite banging up his ankle late in the game, continues to be as tough as nails from the quarterback position.
But, the offensive line and the defense got out-muscled Saturday against the Terps. The defensive line and linebackers missed tackles throughout the day. Despite an overall good performance defensively, the fact that we can't stand running backs up and prevent them from falling forward kept several Maryland drives alive at crucial parts of the game.
And, obviously, the Clemson offensive line had a bad day after seemingly turning the corner against Middle Tennessee State and Georgia Tech. The line was pushed around early and often in the first half before improving to some degree in the 2nd half. But, there is still a serious lack of push when Clemson needs short yardage from the running game. Add that to some of the blown assignments in crucial situations, and the recipe spelled disaster once again.
The knock on Clemson remains. The soft label ain't going anywhere until we prove otherwise.
A Running Question
Clemson succeeded in keeping Maryland under their 184 yards rushing a game average on Saturday night despite the Terrapins best efforts. It was obvious that the game plan for Maryland was to run, run, run and then hit the big play in the air. They were able to hit the big play in the air despite not establishing a dominating running game that they are accustomed to having. The Terps ran for only 134 yards, which is 50 yards below their average. Combined, Josh Allen and Bruce Perry did not reach the 100-yard mark, a feat that deserves a pat on the back for the defense.
But, the running game success the defense demonstrated will be overshadowed by the dismal running success of the offense. Clemson earned only 50 yards rushing, even if you take away the sacks the Tigers gave up on Charlie Whitehurst (statistically, sacks go against the running total). This is simply unacceptable, and several of the players on the offensive side of the ball questioned the logic of the coaches with regards to trying to establish the running game. And that, my friends, is not a good sign.
It became obvious early that Maryland was going to send people left and right to try and disrupt the Clemson passing game. Even when the Terrapins showed only a three-man front, the Terps were inclined to blitz fairly regularly from the secondary.
With a few exceptions, Clemson was not able to take advantage of the blitzes and isolate Clemson's receivers on the Maryland linebackers. Add to the fact that Maryland all but stopped worrying about Clemson running the ball, and you are able to paint the picture of what kind of success Maryland had against the Clemson offense.
As expected, Maryland put the ball on the ground. Scott McBrien was hit hard twice and coughed the ball up. The Tigers were able to recover one of the fumbles, and missed a golden opportunity to recover the other for what could have been a touchdown.
The first fumble McBrien had was so deep in the backfield that if a Clemson player had been in position, he could have easily picked it up and run into the end zone for a touchdown. Instead, a burly Maryland offensive lineman hobbled to the ball and fell on it for a big loss for the Terps. It was one of those plays that you need to catch a break on if you are going to beat a team when you don't have your best stuff…which Clemson did not have Saturday afternoon.
Charlie Whitehurst did throw 2 interceptions, but both were in desperate times when desperate measures were needed. It's hard to fault a guy that throws the ball 45 times for 320 yards with only 2 interceptions when he spent a good portion of the day running away from Maryland defenders.
Roar Out Of The Gate
The worst case scenario unfolded Saturday when Maryland jumped out to a 7-0 first quarter lead and quickly made it 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter. Maryland has the reputation and statistics to back up the fact that they were quick starters, and that is exactly what they did Saturday.
Compounding the problem with the running game (or lack thereof) was the fact that the Tigers were behind and Maryland was able to take some chances defensively that they may not have been willing to take had the Tigers got off to a fast start. However, at the end of the day, the fast start by Maryland was not the death of the Tigers Saturday, as several opportunities throughout the day offered the Tigers the chance to get back into the game.
We just could not.