Previewing Maryland

This will be the 7th game of the year for the Tigers who are off to a 4-2 start on the 2004 season. As I predicted in the previous articles in this series, Clemson will enter the game 1-2 in the ACC race.

In this 11 part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses.

Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech
Week #3: Previewing Texas A&M
Week #4: Previewing Florida State
Week #5: Previewing Virginia
Week #6: Previewing Utah State

October 23, 2004
Maryland at Clemson
Clemson fell to Maryland in 2003 on a blustery afternoon in College Park by the score of 21-7. Maryland quickly went up 14-0, but the Tigers scratched back on a great touchdown reception by Derrick Hamilton to make the score 14-7. On Clemson's next procession, Kevin Youngblood caught a touchdown pass that was called back for offensive pass interference. The Tigers never recovered and ended up falling to the Terps when a 4th down pass to Cliff Harrell late in the game fell incomplete.

This will be the 7th game of the year for the Tigers who are off to a 4-2 start on the 2004 season. As I predicted in the previous articles in this series, Clemson will enter the game 1-2 in the ACC race. I predict that Maryland will enter the game 5-1 (3-0 in the ACC) with wins over Northern Illinois, Temple, Duke, Georgia Tech, and N.C. State while falling to West Virginia on the road.

Ralph Friedgen is in his 3rd year at Maryland, compiling an astonishing 30-8 record to date. The Terrapins are coming off a 10-3 season with wins over The Citadel, West Virginia, Eastern Michigan, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and West Virginia again in the Gator Bowl. In 2003, the Terrapins lost to Northern Illinois, Florida State, and Georgia Tech.

On offense, Maryland returns 5 players from last year's team that averaged a 421.7 yards a game (2nd in the ACC and 28th in the nation). There are major questions at quarterback for Maryland, and nothing in the spring answered the burning question of who exactly will be under center for the Terps.

Sophomore Joel Statham is in his third year and has the strongest arm of the choices for Coach Friedgen. Statham had tentatively been penciled in as the starter heading into the fall, but he stunk up the spring game and raised doubts about his ability to lead the offense. Statham did get some snaps last year, relieving Scott McBrien in the 2nd half against Georgia Tech and throwing for a respectable 10-22 and 110 yards. And while he never looked very comfortable under center in that Georgia Tech game, he at least has some snaps under his belt. Sam Hollenbach (6-5, 218) looks to have the body of a big time quarterback and he has shown improvement over the last year. Hollenbach was also inconsistent in the spring, which apparently could be a recurring theme for these two QB choices. There are a host of contenders behind those two, including Ryan Mitch, Dan Gronkowski, and incoming freshman Jordan Steffy.

While it is hard to imagine a Friedgen-coached team to lack playmaking ability at quarterback, there is certainly major concern that either of the above two choices will be able to keep up the pace of past Friedgen QB's at Maryland and Georgia Tech.

Junior Josh Allen has proven himself as one of the premier running backs in the conference after a 2003 year where he gained 922 yards. He is a bruiser that can run over you or out run you once he finds a seam. Allen also has a nose for the endzone, having rushed for 16 touchdowns since he has been in College Park.

Ricardo Dickerson performed well in the spring at fullback and appears poised to win the job in the fall. Friedgen has mentioned that he will utilize mostly one back sets, so the fullback position is not much of a concern one way or another.

Maryland has a deep, if not overly talented, group of wide receiver to catch the ball if they can find a suitable quarterback. Maryland claims that of the 10 receivers who were in College Park for testing in the spring, seven clocked at 4.5 or better in the 40-yard dash. Junior Derrick Fenner has good hands, is a strong route runner and averaged an ACC-best 27.8 yards per reception last year.

All-ACC selection Steve Suter missed a good portion of spring but appears healthy for now. Though he will line up at flanker, he can play any one of the three spots. Dan Melendez and Drew Weatherly will back up Suter and Fenner and both have excellent size, averaging right around 6-3 and 200 pounds. Others make up a cast that could challenge for playing time including Jo Jo Walker, Rich Parson, and Curtis Williams. Friedgen has praised his receiver for being able to play multiple positions, and you can expect there will be some shifting around once the season starts for the Terps. Derek Miller is a solid tight end that will have the unenviable task of replacing four year starter Jeff Dugan. On the offensive line, Maryland has lost a pair of solid performers in Lamar Bryant and Eric Dumas from a year ago, making the right side of the offensive line a source of focus. Center Kyle Schmitt is a candidate for the Rimington Award and will anchor the middle of the line. Senior C.J. Brooks is the starter at left guard after earning first team All-ACC last year while compiling 37 knockdown blocks last year. On the right side, redshirt freshman Andrew Crummey nailed down the starting job in the spring despite weighing in at only 273 pounds. Stephon Heyer stands in at 6-6 and has nailed down the left tackle position for 2004. Heyer is considered Maryland's best pass blocker, a trait desperately needed at the left tackle spot now that the Terps will have a right handed quarterback. Right tackle will be manned by another experienced lineman, senior Lou Lombardo. Overall, this line is about middle of the road in the ACC and could improve on that if the Terps can avoid injuries.

On defense, Maryland returns 4 players from a defense that gave up only 308.4 yards a game last year (1st in the ACC, 15th in the nation). Maryland is expected to utilize a 4-3 defense this year, a shift due to the fact that more talent lies on the defensive line than at linebacker.

Kevin Eli returns at defensive end for his senior season after earning All-ACC accolades last year with 11 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Two redshirt freshmen will look to get their feet wet behind him as Patrick Powell and Omarr Savage are backups at the position. At the other end, junior Shawne Merriman will get the start after totaling 8.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss last year despite having a bum knee most of the year. At defensive tackle, sophomore Conrad Bolston and senior Henry Scott will battle for playing time. Second-year player Rob Armstrong is listed as the starter at nose tackle after spending more time on the field than any defensive freshman a year ago. While the Terps are still young on the defensive line, they are extremely talented and deep and this should be a strength of the defensive unit. D'Qwell Jackson anchors the linebacker unit after recording 87 solo stops a year ago. Strong side linebacker is a major concern, however, as a pair of walk-ons will be fighting for a starting job. David Holloway and Jeris Smith are not the kind of players that a program like Maryland wants to plug into the linebacker position, so look for freshman Eric Lenz to fight for playing time. William Kershaw offers a little more hope on the other side at linebacker, but here again the lack of talent is evident. Minus Jackson, the Terps probably don't have another player that would start on any ACC team at linebacker.

Big and physical Domonique Foxworth returns to anchor the secondary after earning second team All-ACC honors. Rueben Haigler got his academics in order and will return after sitting out the entire 2003 season. Senior Raymond Custis should start at free safety, but the strong safety is a huge question mark. Senior Chris Kelley played in all 12 games last year but is not considered great with cover skills. All in all, the secondary is much like the linebackers in that a lack of playmakers could cause headaches for the Maryland defensive coaches.

On special teams, Maryland will be as good as or better than any team in the country. Nick Novak returns after hitting 24-32 kicks with a long of 54 yards last year. Adam Podlesh averaged 42.6 yards a punt last year as a freshman, and a similar year this year will earn him all ACC honors.

Summary And Prediction
There is little secret that Ralph Friedgen has Clemson's number. While offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech, Friedgen engineered Tech to 4 straight wins over the Tigers in the late 1990's. He started at Maryland right where he left off at Tech, going 3-0 versus the Tigers while coaching in College Park.

Maybe the most frustrating thing about Friedgen's teams is that most did not have as much talent as Clemson across the board, but he simply out-coached the Tigers year in and year out. And there is no reason to believe Coach Ralph will not have the Terrapins ready to play when they invade Death Valley in late-October.

Defensively, Clemson should match up a little better with the Terps than in years past because of the Tiger secondary. Assuming the Clemson secondary can keep the Maryland receivers relatively in check, the Tiger front 7 will be able to focus on stopping Allen at running back. Allen can single handedly beat you, so the task will be tall.

Clemson's offensive line will have their hands full with the Terp defensive front. More than likely, that will be the key battle to keep an eye on as the game progresses. If the Tiger line can contain the Terp front 4, Maryland is ripe for the taking because of lack of talent and experience at linebacker and in the secondary. Clemson receivers struggled last year against the physical Terp secondary, but that won't be as big a problem for the Tigers this year.

A sizable advantage in the special teams area goes to Maryland, so Clemson can ill afford to not move the football and establish field position or the Terps will slowly flip the field on Clemson.

And, quite frankly, there is little reason to believe Clemson can solve Coach Friedgen. That being said, I liken this game to my preseason prediction of the Clemson/FSU game from last year. As you may recall, I picked the Tigers to finally beat the Seminoles last July based on the fact that the Tigers were due and that the game was in Death Valley.

Clemson is due versus Maryland and the Tigers are most certainly due versus Coach Friedgen. All streaks must come to an end, and I have a hunch this one will end in Death Valley in late October.

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