After coming out of the gates with the same 2-3 record four of the previous seven seasons, Clemson finished the season Bowl-eligible, including last season when the team won six consecutive contests to make an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.
No, nobody is counting out the Tigers. The Terps certainly arent.
Led by two-year starting quarterback Kyle Parker, Clemson exercised a balanced offensive attack, scoring just north of 30 points per game. Their arsenal of weapons – running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown and tight end Dwayne Allen – are complemented by an even more impressive offensive line. Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen put it plainly: Offensively, our defense has its hands full.
Parker, who doubles as a baseball star, became the only Division 1 athlete to throw for 20 touchdowns and hit 20 homeruns in the same year. In his career, he sports a .343 batting average with one homer and seven RBI in nine games against Maryland. Fortunately, Friedgen wont have to pitch to Parker come Saturday; hell just have to try and stop him.
I think [Parker is] a very poised individual. [The offensive line] has only given up five sacks. A lot of that is due to his elusiveness and his ability to avoid sacks and get rid of the ball, Friedgen said, adding that his athleticism and strong arm allows the quarterback to scramble and extend coverage until he finds his receivers.
Tight end Dwayne Allen has emerged as Parkers favorite target in his sophomore season. Allen leads Clemson in both catches and receiving yardage with 18 receptions for 235 yards. Second to Allen is freshman wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who in his first career start versus North Carolina last Saturday totaled seven catches for 46 yards, three of which came on third downs.
Ellington leads the team with just under 450 yards rushing; averaging 6.6 yards per carry with seven scores. Against the Terps, he will attempt to reach the 1,000-yard mark in his career, and surpass his mentor Spiller to become the quickest Tiger to do so.
Theyve got a tremendous tailback in Ellington; defensive coordinator Don Brown said, His straight-line speed is excellent, much like that of Spillers. You dont want to let him get in space or youre going to have a long day.
Paving the way for Ellington and Harper is an offensive line averaging over 6-foot-5 in stature and combing for 1,545 pounds of seasoned veterans. Their size and athleticism drew praise from Friedgen. However, defensive lineman Joe Vellano suggests a quicker effort on the part of the Terps can make the difference.
I think [our defensive line is faster than [their offensive line]. Theyre real big and we do a lot of movement which keeps us at an advantage, Vellano said.
But with all that potential on offense, the Terps must prepare for anything and everything that Clemson can throw their way. Their balance allows them to do that. However, according to Brown, Ellington will priority number one.
Are they going to stay true to form of the way theyve been, referring to their pass-first offense, or are they going to hand it off to Ellington? Its hard to tell. If we dont stop the run, were going to have a long day.
Countering Bowers, Clemson defense
Coming into the season, Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers had just four career sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Ranking among the nations elite with six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, and Bowers is amongst the favorites for the Hendricks Award, Lombardi Award and Nagurski Award,
DaQuan Bowers, of course, is a beast. Hes an actual playmaker, running back Davin Meggett said.
Offensive coordinator James Franklin shares the same viewpoint as Meggett, which is why hes intently planning to contain Bowers, because shutting him down completely would me a lofty task.
Hes a very good player – hes big, strong, physical. I think hes a big-time player, Franklin said. Hes a tremendous challenge for us, and we have to do some things from a scheme standpoint, from a personnel standpoint to help with him.
The Tigers defensive line complements the relentless end with strong defensive tackle play from Jarvis Jenkins, nose guard Brandon Thompson and hybrid pass-rusher Andre Branch. Together, the unit forms the teams most formidable challenge.
Their personnel are tough to match up with. Their [defensive] line is definitely the best [defensive] line well see all year on film. Obviously, you know what they bring up front, with DaQuan Bowers, Jenkins in the middle, wide receiver Torrey Smith said. Theyre probably overall the best defense weve seen so far.
Theyre big, strong, physical. Thats who they are. Thats Clemson football, Meggett added.
While Franklin acknowledged that this defense may in fact be the best defense his team will face on the season, he did not rule out his teams ability to contend. To this point in the season, the foundation of the Terps success has been big plays and reducing turnovers – the exact game plan come Saturday.
Playing with good pad level, clutch scoring and a balanced offense were all successful for the Terps 24-21 win last season, and in order to garner the same results, Franklin suggests the team will have to play really good, sound, fundamental football. If we continue to do that, well make some big plays and well score some points.