5 Keys to Taming the Terrapins

Ralph Friedgen leads his 3-3 (1-2) Terrapins into Death Valley for a bowl elimination game with the Clemson Tigers. Friedgen has completely had Clemson's number, winning five straight games against the Tigers, dating back to his days at Georgia Tech.

Can that incredible streak continue Saturday?

Here are my 5 Keys to Taming the Terps.

1. Quarterback Confusion
Ironically enough, the center of the problem on offense for Friedgen's team has been at the quarterback. Now granted, neither Joel Statham or Jordan Steffy have had the benefit of a great pass blocking offensive line, but their numbers are not very good when broken down.

Joel Statham is completing 56% of passes on the year with seven interceptions and seven touchdowns. Statham is averaging 160.2 per game through the air on the season, but the last two weeks have been dreadful. Against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, Statham is completing only 48% of passes without a touchdown while averaging only 27 yards per game through the air.

All of which prompted Friedgen to give Jordan Steffy a try in both of the last two games. But Steffy has been even less effective, completing only 35% of his passes (7-20) for 66 yards.

All of which has lead to a bunch of head scratching in College Park. "In some ways we've tried to simplify things, and we may have gotten too simple", Friedgen said Tuesday. "Last week I really backed off (on Statham) and tried to be encouraging with him and I did the same last night."

It's obvious that both quarterbacks are struggling, and it would be in Clemson's best interest to keep it that way Saturday. We all know John Lovette loves to blitz, and I'm sure we will see a steady dose of that Saturday to force the Maryland quarterbacks to make quick and accurate decisions.

But I also think you will see Clemson try and disguise some coverages similar to last week against Utah State. That could mean dropping lineman into pass coverage or simply sending only 2 or 3 pass rushers and dropping everybody else into coverage.

What you won't see are base formations that give these quarterbacks a familiar look. Expect it to be mixed up and expect these quarterbacks to have to play well in order for Maryland to move the football.

2. Suter Muter
If there is one player on the Terrapin football team that brings Clemson fan's to shudder at night, it is Mr. Everything Steve Suter.

Suter is 3rd on the team in receiving (12 catches for 141 yards). Suter averages 8.1 yards per punt return and 26.9 yards per kick return. In all purpose yards, Suter is grabbing 92.5 yards per game.

A banged up Suter killed Clemson last year with his ability to make the big 3rd down catches to keep drives alive. And while Suter did not do anything remarkable in the kicking game last year, he most certainly has made some noise on special teams against just about every other Terrapin opponent.

Part of the chess match Saturday will be whether Clemson punts to Suter. While Jad Dean has a strong enough leg to kick the ball into the end zone to avoid Suter's returns on kickoffs, the Clemson punting game has no such luxury.

Most teams have simply kicked the ball out of bounds to avoid Suter making the big play. But Clemson has been outstanding in punt coverage, allowing less than 10 yards per return this year while giving up only one big play (in the Texas A&M game when Chason out-kicked his coverage). Whether Clemson elects to kick to Suter or not remains to be seen, but minimizing his effectiveness in the return game will be critical. Especially since Maryland has struggled so much on offense.

3. Corner-Stones
If there has been once constant for Clemson in the past few years playing Maryland, it has been the Terrapins ability to shut down the Tiger receivers with physical man-to-man coverage in the secondary.

Maryland is giving up a respectable 174.3 yards per game through the air this year. Cornerback Dominique Foxworth is back (16 total tackles) to go along with Gerrick McPhearson (21 total tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for a loss). The Terrapins love to play physical up front and in the secondary on defense, forcing opposing teams to have to throw the ball in a hurry in a tight space in order to move the ball thorough the air.

Friedgen has not been thrilled with the play of his secondary at times this year, especially the play of McPhearson. Friedgen says his pass defense has been good, "With the exception of third down, which they (N.C. State) did a good job of attacking some of our coverages and the weak spots, and other ones where we had some breakdowns in coverage."

Like most teams, Clemson wants to attack those areas where there may be single coverage. And it appears Clemson will at least test McPhearson to see if he is ready to cover guys like Airese Currie or Chansi Stuckey.

"Defensively, they have always been fairly successful against us" Bowden said Tuesday. "I would think the plan of attack (for them) is going to be very similar. They'll pressure."

The question is…how will the struggling Clemson passing offense respond to that pressure?

4. Run to Their Average
Maryland is giving up 134 yards on the ground for the season. But one of the quirky things about their two game losing streak is that the Terrapins have shut down two good running football teams. The Terrapins have only give up 113 in the last two games against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, which averages to less than 60 yards per game.

The Clemson futility in the running game has been well documented, that is for sure. But Clemson did show signs last week of some consistency in the running game, as the Tigers piled up 200 plus yards on Utah State.

Don't expect Clemson to be able to get near that number Saturday, but a reasonable goal will be for Clemson to break the 100 yard barrier and creep towards Maryland's season average of 134 yards per game.

Expect the Tigers to at least try to control the game on the ground. The Tigers used more I-formation than in the past last week, and the results were good enough that we may see more of that this week. Maryland's linebackers are good, led by D'Qwell Jackson at the middle linebacker position. Clemson will have to consistently put a hat on Jackson if there are any hopes of running the football.

While Jackson leads the team in tackles (60), defensive end Shawne Merriman (60 tackles) and strong safety Chris Kelley (50 tackles) both have a nose for the ball in running situations. Merriman's health is in question, so keep a close eye on #45 to see how well he moves early in the game Saturday.

If the Tigers get 135 on the ground Saturday, a Clemson win seems almost inevitable.

5. Early Leads To Often
Maryland is giving up only 3 points a game in the 1st quarter. Clemson is only scoring five points a game in the first quarter. To get an early lead, Clemson will need to break both trends Saturday.

Maryland is a team on the verge of implosion. The Terps have not had the kind of struggles that they are having now under Friedgen. "We're not playing with a lot of confidence right now" Friedgen said Tuesday. "We just have not played to the way we're capable of playing. Obviously, I have to look at myself when that's happening. I'm not doing something right."

With Maryland struggling so much on offense, jumping out to a lead early could be a crippling thing for the Terps. Add that to the fact that Clemson is playing at home and Maryland's young team has only one major road game under their belt (West Virginia's 60,000 seat venue) and you can sense that the Tigers could rattle the Terps a little bit.

Clemson has also been terrible at coming from behind, so building a lead on the Terps will go a long way in getting this much needed win. "Hopefully, we can carry over momentum from this game. I don't think there's any doubt that if we can have similar performance to what we just had (against Utah State), we can be successful" Bowden said Tuesday.

Getting a lead will go a long way to keeping that momentum.

Analysis and Prediction
These two teams seem to be traveling on similar paths with one small exception. Clemson got a win last week and Maryland did not. If Clemson would have had a bye last week and entered this game 1-4, the two teams would be mirror images of each other.

How much can a confidence boost like beating Utah State really carry over? It's hard to tell, but there may be a deeper thing going on here. Clemson has had their share of struggles in the past few years…especially last year when Clemson hit rock bottom after Wake Forest. The Tigers found a way to turn things around and the season ended in a roaring success. Clemson certainly knows what it's like to be down and to overcome that.

Maryland has had no such litmus test as the Terrapins have done nothing but win games under Ralph Friedgen. To try and gauge how that team is going to handle adversity is a real challenge. We know Clemson can handle it…but can the Terrapins? Or for that matter, can Ralph Friedgen?

All in all, I think Clemson's boost in confidence along with the fact that the Tigers are at home make the difference in this game. Of course, millions of things can happen to alter that outcome, but when picking games you simply have to go with your gut.

Clemson may be slightly better than Maryland on the field, but I know Clemson has the mental make up to overcome adversity. And that is why Clemson wins on Saturday to improve to 3-4 on the year and 2-3 in the ACC.

Like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, The Curse of the Fridge ends Saturday afternoon.

Clemson 20 Maryland 13

CUTigers.com Top Stories