5 Keys To Taming The Turtles

A rejuvenated Clemson team, fresh off 2 straight conference road wins, will play host to the hottest team in the ACC Saturday night in Death Valley. Maryland has been almost unbeatable after shaking off a slow start to the 2002 season, and it's easy to see why Maryland comes in as 4.5 point favorites.

Clemson stands at the cusp of completely altering the perception of this season if they can win out. Tommy Bowden-coached Clemson teams have beaten a ranked opponent every year under his watch, and Maryland will offer the final opportunity for the Tigers to get a win over a ranked opponent in the 2002 season. A win Saturday…well, I don't even need to tell you what a win Saturday will do for this program.

Well…Isn't That Special?
You name a big game in the 2002 season, and I can name you a handful of special teams blunders in each one. The list started with Georgia, at with Florida State, and climaxed against the Wolfpack.

Maryland stands poised to pounce all over the demons that Clemson holds on special teams against ranked opponents. Not only have the Terps watched ranked teams humble the Tigers' special teams units, they watched knowing that they have the premier punt returner in the conference in Steve Suter (4 punt returns for touchdowns on the year).

You would think that Clemson is due to put these special teams ghosts to rest at some point. Haven't the Tigers already lost enough games this year because of these ghosts? Here is one wary guy who will have to see it to believe it.

Charlie's Time
If one thing was proved over the past two weeks about Charlie Whitehurst, it was that he can pick apart opposing defenses if he is given the appropriate amount of time in the pocket. Sure, there have been times where Whitehurst has sidestepped a defender to find an open receiver, but for the most part, he's has had good protection the last two weeks. Now it is time to find out if that had to do with the opponents…or if the o-line if gelling at the right time of the season.

The good news is that Charlie has shown the patience in the pocket to wait as long as possible before he has to throw the ball, as opposed to running at the first sign of danger like Woody Dantzler and Willie Simmons.

The bad news is that Charlie has not yet learned the fine line of getting rid of the ball as opposed to taking the sack. See the fumble late in the game versus Duke and the safety versus North Carolina as examples. Against Maryland, the Tigers cannot afford to give up many sacks and put the offense in long yardage situations. That onus falls somewhat on Charlie to know when to hold them and when to fold them.

5-11 versus 6-4
Clemson's little dynamo, aka Tommy Sharpe, has his hands full Saturday night. Not only does Sharpe have his usual duty of matching up with a bigger and stronger defensive line, he must also assist in containing Mr. E.J. Henderson from wreaking havoc on the Clemson backfield.

To his credit, Sharpe has done everything the coaches have asked of him and done it well. You can apply all kinds of laws of physics to the fact that Sharpe is small enough to have an advantage on bigger players because of leverage. Newton was a smart guy, but he was not a football player.

At some point the mini-me that is Tommy Sharpe will be physically overmatched. Will that be this weekend? I don't know, but if it is, the Tigers are going to have a tough time controlling the line of scrimmage with him in the game.

Linebacker University-South?
Clemson fans pride themselves on the litany of names you can reel off that played linebacker on Tiger defenses. Going into the year, linebacker was a position that most Clemson fans just assumed would be fine. After all, John Leake, Eric Sampson, and Rodney Thomas spent most of 2001 as the shining light of an otherwise dismal defense.

But in 2002, it has been the linebackers that have been suspect at times. The middle of the field, which happens to be the domain of the linebackers, has been picked apart for the past 4-5 weeks. Part of that is due to the fact that teams are not throwing the out patters against Brian Mance and Justin Miller because both are having stellar years. So, teams avoid the sidelines and attack the middle. Where are the big plays by these linebackers? Nowhere, lately.

The simple answer is that the linebackers are trying desperately to defend against the run, something the Tiger defense has had some trouble doing. But defending the run while neglecting the pass is a deadly formula against Maryland. The Clemson linebackers hold so many keys to the defensive plays that I won't mention them all so they won't have any more pressure put upon them. Watch the linebackers Saturday night, watch them very, very closely.

Game Time…7:45
The 2002 Clemson Tigers have developed a nagging habit of starting the first quarter slow. In most cases, the first drive of the game is a good one. After that, Clemson seems to disappear until midway through the 2nd quarter.

Whether this is psychological, or a fluke of nature, I don't have the slightest idea. What I do know is that Clemson must play the first quarter like they are down 14 points. Attack from the beginning, take risks on offense and defense, and see if you can rattle the Terrapins.

Unfortunately, the Tigers were never able to put the pressure on N.C. State by taking a lead. Georgia Tech on the otherhand, had no problem putting the pressure on the Pack by jumping otu in front early on and we all saw what happened there-the Wolfpack blinked.

Maryland, who still has outside aspirations of tying for the ACC Championship will do the same. They will blink…they just need someone to make them.

Rhymer's Prediction
Maryland is good, very good. I am as impressed with the Terps as much as any team in the ACC this year. You can throw out the junk that says the Terps have not won in Death Valley since 1985. Ralph Friedgen is 0-0 in Death Valley with the Terps and he has won in Death Valley with Georgia Tech.

I think Clemson understands the opportunity it has before them Saturday. I also think the Tigers confidence is at a highpoint in the 2002 season.

With all that being said, I think we are in for a great football game. These two teams are playing good football, and I expect both to play well Saturday night. The one overriding factor going against the Tigers is Ralph Friedgen. Until Clemson can beat him, it is hard to pick against him. My heart says Clemson, my head says Maryland.


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