I dont think the score was really indicative of the game. If you look at the stats, you wouldnt think we lost 31-7, Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly press conference.
The Terps manage to gain more first downs (18), throw for more yards (306) and convert more third downs (28.6 percent) than Clemson, but reached the end zone just once. In contrast, the Tigers 213 total yards of offense produced just 13 first downs, but scored two touchdowns.
Maryland quarterback Danny OBrien completed 72 percent of his passes in the first half, and was on the receiving end of a pass thrown by running back DaRel Scott. But it was on the following kickoff in which it came apart for the Terps.
An 87-yard run by running back Andre Ellington returned for a touchdown gave Clemson a 10-7 lead. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown the Terps had allowed all season.
Then, following a 33-yard missed field goal attempt by Travis Baltz, running back Jamie Harper was able to score on a fourth-and-goal with about 30 seconds remaining in the half. For Friedgen, the momentum changed in the game about that point.
We had a poor game on special teams, which we hadnt been having. Special teams have won a lot of games. We have to go back to doing things the way were capable of doing here.
Heading into halftime, there was a lot of positivity for the Terps to build upon – OBriens strong performance, the emergence of tight ends Matt Furstenburg and Will Yeatman in the passing attack and holding Ellington to 28 yards rushing and Parker to 77 yards passing with no offensive touchdowns.
The atmosphere in the locker room at halftime, according to Friedgen, led him to believe his team was confident in their abilities. He admitted he hardly gave a speech because his team was talking amongst themselves.
A three-and-out to start off the second half, followed by a 41-yard punt return to the Maryland 22-yard line, led to another one-yard rushing touchdown, this one complementary of Ellington.
A 10-point deficit evolved into 17 points, and as the gap increased, morale did not.
We came out real strong and everyone thought we got this game. We scored on them, it 7-3, it was at Death Valley, tight end Matt Furstenburg said. We dug ourselves a hole in the second half and couldnt get out of it.
We just kept putting ourselves in bad situations, defensive tackle A.J. Francis said. We didnt play bad in the second half, its just unfortunate events that occurred put us in bad situations; we put ourselves in bad situations, and it ended up costing us.
Three interceptions from OBrien summed up the remainder of the Terps offense on the afternoon. With a double-digit lead to climb, the Terps had to abandon their game plan and became one-dimension in a game of catch-up.
Obviously, when you get down late, I was trying to make a few things happen, tried to force a few balls, OBrien said.
Defensively, coordinator Don Brown acknowledged his unit performed well in their goal of limiting Ellington to 46 yards on the ground and Parker to just 106 yards through the air. What they were missing, however, were the turnovers they became so used to causing. After compiling 12 turnovers in five games this season, the Terps were unable to force any against Clemson.
The difference was we had no momentum-changing plays, Brown explained. We didnt cause an interception. We didnt cause any fumbles. So obviously we didnt give our [offense] any extra opportunities to score.
In hindsight, the Terps realize failing to execute on a handful of plays cost them their second consecutive conference win, and their first opportunity to win on the road in 10 tries. Francis drew attention to the fact that every play can change the course of a football game. For a Maryland-Clemson matchup decided by 24 points, a sack, a kickoff return or a penalty could have made the difference.
We feel like we let one get away. We pretty much handled the game – we just lost. We got blown out. Its confusing when you look at the stats and you wonder how you lose this game, Francis said. At the end of the day, they dominated the score, and thats all that matters.