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A tale of halves – that's been the story for Maryland this year. Unable to muster up 60 minutes of sound football offensively, defensively and on special teams; evident by a 2-3 record.
Once again, the Terps will try to seize the momentum from an impressive defensive outing in which they stifled Georgia Tech's prolific offense. Then the No. 1 rushing attack (378 yards per game) and second-best scoring team in the nation( 51.6 points per game), the Yellow Jackets were limited to 272 yards on the ground and 21 points, including a scoreless span for nearly 28 minutes to end the game.
The next task is the Clemson offense. Averaging more than 472 yards per game (19th in the nation), and the top-ranked offense in the ACC, the Tigers have at least 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in three of their six contests already.
Redshirt sophomore Tajh Boyd orchestrates the Tigers offense. In his first season as the starter, Boyd has took the college football world by storm. He's averaging more than 290 yards through the air and is second in touchdown passes (15) behind only N.C. State's Mike Glennon.
Boyd did, however, suffered a strained hip last week against Boston College while completing a pass to tight end Dwayne Allen. And despite his status for Saturday a bit cloudy earlier this week, there's no doubt around Gossett that he will be under center. Clemson knows it. Maryland knows it. And Maryland is ready for him.
"When you're fighting a snake, you got to cut the head off first," nose tackle A.J. Francis said. "Tajh Boyd is the man that makes that whole offense run. We got to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. We got to make him uncomfortable running the ball. If we're able to do that, we should be able to win this game."
Francis compared the Clemson offense to that of Florida State – athletes being put in a position to create mismatches with the defense. Boyd is the not the only athlete on the offense; he's surrounded by weapons.
Running back Andre Ellington scored a rushing touchdown last year in the team's match-up in Death Valley, but it was his 81-yard kickoff return for a score that handed Clemson an early lead that helped the Tigers win, 31-7.
And then there's Sammy Watkins, the true freshman wideout who ranks second in the conference in receiving yards (104 yards per game) and touchdown catches (6). Watkins is coming off an outing against the Eagles in which he caught seven balls for a career-best 152 yards.
"They know they have more athletes than you and they're going to put their athletes in position to try and make plays," Francis said. "They're going to make you play your best game, and if you don't you'll lose, plain and simple."
While much attention has centered on trying to contain Boyd and this offense, Maryland's own offense is dealing with a complication as well. C.J. Brown replaced Danny O'Brien in the second quarter last week, awakening the sluggish Terps offense to score 13 points.
Neither O'Brien nor Brown impressed passing the ball, but Brown was able to create plays with his legs, like his 77-yard rushing score in the fourth quarter. Head coach Randy Edsall says whoever will line up behind center will be Follow Sam on a game-time decision.
"Clemson's probably just like us – they're going to prepare for both quarterbacks anyway," Francis said. "It probably won't affect them that much; they know what kind of offense we run. They're not going to practice differently all week because they think it's Danny or practice differently all week because they think it's CJ."
The Maryland passing offense has regressed tremendously since the start of the season. O'Brien had five consecutive 300-yard passing games dating back to last season before a three-interception game against West Virginia. Since then, O'Brien has thrown for 153 yards against Temple and 123 yards against Towson. On Saturday, he began 1-6 with a pick, leading to his benching.
The offense now ranks near the bottom of all passing statistics in the ACC. The Terps have the 10th-ranked passing offense, and is dead last in converting third downs and time of possession.
"We've got to get better in the passing game," Edsall said. "That's offensive linemen, that's running backs, wide receivers, tight end, quarterback, everybody and coaches, too. We all have to get better. We all have to do our part to do more to get more productive in that area."
The running game, however, is the lone bright spot. Over the past two games, Maryland has been assertive employing the ground-and-pound attack, evident by a season-high 246 rushing yards against Georgia Tech. They must cope with loss of senior left guard Andrew Gonnella, though, who was lost for the season due to a left knee injury. He will be replaced by sophomore Pete White.
Clemson's rushing defense is allowing 160 yards per game. In five of their six games, the Tigers have allowed the opposition to surpass the 100-yard rushing mark, including two 200-yard efforts by Wofford and Auburn.