Grading the Keys to Victory

If there ever was a win that landed with a bigger thud in Death Valley, I sure can't remember it. <BR>

While the win most certainly will not garner any style points, it still was a win that allowed Clemson's fledgling bowl hopes to remain alive for at least one more week.

Here's how I graded my 5 keys to the game:

1. Quarterback Confusion
Give Joel Statham some credit. The much maligned quarterback for the Terrapins that came into the game having to look over his shoulder to see if his replacement was going to come in. But Statham played admirably if not miraculously Saturday afternoon in Clemson and he at least gave Maryland a fighting chance to win the game.

Statham ended the day 14-of-31 for 111 yards and two interceptions. Statham also engineered the option on multiple occasions for the Terps that led to the most frustration for the Clemson defense.

To the defense's credit, the secondary refused to give up the big play despite multiple throws downfield by the Maryland offense. Justin Miller and Tye Hill certainly had their best games of the year, and the secondary was responsible for two interceptions in the game.

Rhymer's Grade…B

2. Suter Muter
The one guy that held the potential big play in his back pocket all day was Maryland's versatile Steve Suter. But Clemson was more than ready for Suter, as the Tiger defense and special team's coverage units swarmed Suter to the point where he was rendered ineffective at best.

Suter finished the day with one catch for 13 yards and only 59 yards in the return game. The bulk of the 59 yards in the return game came on one punt return late in the game of about 30 yards, but Maryland was not able to capitalize on the good field position that Suter gave the Terps.

Cole Chason deserves the game ball for his consistently good punting that had Suter backpedaling all afternoon long. And Jad Dean booted his kickoffs deep, allowing only one to be returned to up around the 22-yard line.

All in all, Clemson did not shy away from the dangerous Suter. Instead, the Tigers used their versatile athletes in the return game to render Suter helpless in a game that Maryland defiantly could have used his big play ability.

Rhymer's Grade…A

3. Corner Stones
Maryland was successful in playing their press man coverage for most of the day as their corners were able to shut the Clemson passing game down. Whitehurst only completed 12 passes to his wide outs, and the Tiger receivers were never able to get behind the Maryland secondary good enough to make a big play.

But Kelvin Grant did draw an interference penalty in the waning seconds of the game against Gerrick McPhearson on 3rd down which allowed Clemson a fresh set of downs that led to the Reggie Merriweather touchdown.

The merits of that call will no doubt be debated this week, but all the debate will be a monumental waste of breath because the damage was done. Whether McPhearson was to blame or not on that one play, the Maryland corners outplayed the Clemson receivers on this day in Death Valley.

Rhymer's Grade…D

4. Run To Their Average
Taking away the sacks to Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson ran the ball 35 times for 108 yards (3.09 yards per carry). While that was below the 134 that Maryland was giving up going into the game, the running game was not an awful product on Saturday.

Reggie Merriweather gained 60 yards on 17 carries including the game winner as he established himself as the emerging star of the team in the running game.
Where Clemson failed miserably was on the end around reverses that were snuffed out by Maryland's defensive ends. Clemson lost 29 yards on attempts to Airese Currie and Chansi Stuckey because the Terrapin defensive ends stayed home.

So while the total numbers are not going to be impressive in the Clemson running game because of the sacks to Whitehurst (5 for -22 yards), the running game from Merriweather and Coleman was adequate if not impressive.

Rhymer's Grade…C+
5. Early Leads to Often
Clemson never got the chance to get a lead on the Terps to see if they would crumble. By the time Clemson took their first lead, only 20 seconds remained in the game and the outcome was all but decided.

And while Clemson gets major kudos for never giving up and fighting on the way to the comeback victory, this team is eventually going to have to learn how to get a lead on somebody early and then shut the door down.

The slow starts are a bit frustrating and most certainly confusing, and at some point that has to improve if the Tigers expect to get to a bowl game.

Rhymer's Grade…F

Conclusion
In all honesty, winning this game was about as frustrating as losing the games to Florida State and Virginia. We should know better than to ever be disappointed with any win, and I am not disappointed with the manner in which the team fought to come back and win.

However, this team has yet to prove that it can beat good teams (Maryland most certainly does not qualify). We keep waiting and waiting and waiting for this team to gel. But the longer we wait the worse it gets.

That being said, it was at this exact point in the season last year that Clemson found that formula with the upset win over Florida State in Death Valley. The Tigers will get a similar opportunity this Saturday if they can upset N.C. State.

The win will do two things. First, it will keep the Tigers in the hunt for a bowl and give Clemson a 3 game winning streak heading to Coral Gables. And secondly, it will allow Clemson to move ahead of N.C. State in the ACC standings.

Can this team be good? I sincerely believe so. But the task Saturday will be as difficult as Clemson has had since the Florida State game, so that improvement better come this week if Clemson is to win.

Stay tuned because it is going to be a wild ride home with this football team in 2004.

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