Mood of the Team
The Tigers enter Saturday's game against Maryland surprisingly confident.
Primarily because of the second half of last Saturday's 35-6 win over Utah State. A win is a win, and this team sorely needed one, and they finally got that against the Aggies.
"It just makes it easier," said Jamaal Fudge. "Our confidence really went up. It doesn't matter who we played, it was just the fact that we won the game. It lifts your spirits and gets you back in the right frame of mind for practice."
One of the most important aspects you can take away from last Saturday's game came on the offensive side of the ball, where the Tigers pounded out 200 yards on the ground, and Charlie Whitehurst finally found some rhythm in the second half.
"It was happening for us, it seemed like everything was working and that's kind of what was going on last year," Whitehurst. "Whatever that was we have got to find it this week."
The 28-second half points were big from a mental perspective. Sure, these guys understand that Utah State wasn't the best team in Division I-A football, but from a confidence standpoint, it should help the team against the Terps.
The Game Plan
Maryland's style of in-your-face, press man coverage almost cost them the game last year against Clemson in College Park, and it will be a major factor again Saturday afternoon.
If you recall, the Tigers' only touchdown last year against the Terps came on a 70-yard pass from Charlie Whitehurst to Derrick Hamilton. Clemson also had another long touchdown pass to Kevin Youngblood called back because of a questionable offensive pass interference call.
In all, the Tigers rang up 320 yards through the air, but just 10 yards total on the ground in a 21-7 loss.
In talking to several of the players this week, namely Whitehurst, they clearly recognize that the opportunity for big passing plays against the Maryland defense is still there.
How often the team can make a play in that department will likely determine whether or not they actually can win the game.
Running backs Duane Coleman and Reggie Merriweather continue to improve, as does the offensive line, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the staff try to establish the run, similar to last week early on.
Obviously, any production in the ground game should help open up the Maryland secondary later in the game.
Make no mistake about it, there was a spark on the team last week on offense. We'll find out Saturday whether or not that spark can turn into a fire.
Defensively, the front four came to life last weekend. Players like Trey Tate, Charles Bennett, and Mo Fountain finally started taking control of the line of scrimmage.
"Those were the types of plays I've felt like we should have been making all season," said Fountain. "But that doesn't help us this week. But Maryland is a great team and this is the most important game of the season for us right now."
More of the same will be needed this week, especially against two struggling quarterbacks in Jordan Steffy and Joel Statham.
"We know that they struggled the last two weeks, but with them having two performances like that, they will probably try to establish the running game early," added Fudge. "We've just got to hold them, and capitalize on their mistakes."
The expectations around the Clemson locker room this week tends to fall under the "close, defensive struggle" category. After all, Maryland has failed to gain 100 yards of total offense the last two weeks, and the Tigers truly haven't found a rhythm for four quarters this season.
Although it may be an overused cliché, there's a great chance this game could come down to a special teams play and turnovers. The
Tigers rank first in the ACC in kickoff returns and second in the league in punt returns behind the strong play of Justin Miller. However, Clemson still ranks last in the league in turnover margin, giving the ball up two more times a game than its opponent.
"I think its just a matter of who goes out and executes better. That goes on special teams, offense, and defense. Whoever does that will come out and win the game. We know what those guys are capable of, and I think they know the same thing about us. It's all about execution," said Miller.
When you break it all down, don't be surprised to see the first team to 17 points, win the game. N.C. State, which scored just 13 points last week against the Maryland defense, defeated the Terps by 10 in College Park, and Georgia Tech won by 13 the week before with just 20 points on the board.
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