On three straight possessions in the second quarter, the defense and special teams gave its offense starting field position inside the Clemson 20-yard line. Art Norman and Terrell Manning provided the first turnover, as Norman forced a fumble and Manning recovered at the Tiger 6-yard line. Two plays later, the Pack scored a touchdown.
Mike Bellamy gifted the Pack its next turnover, dropping the ball on the ground and allowing the ever-present Manning to jump on it – giving the Pack the ball at Clemson's 18. The Pack converted that into a field goal. The final big play came from special teams as T.J. Graham fielded a punt at the Clemson 45-yard line and found a seam, running it all the way back to the 11. Two plays later, the Pack scored another touchdown and had an inexplicable 24-3 lead.
"[It was] just a lot of guys playing fast," Manning said. "We had a lot of individual guys going out there and not really caring - just pinning their ears back and going after the quarterback."
At the risk of oversimplifying, those three possessions saved the Pack's season. Dependent upon how the Maryland game plays out, that sequence of plays could prove the difference between a bowl game or staying at home in December.
Prior to those possessions, the offense had been in its same familiar rut. The Pack had four possessions in the first quarter and ended them each with a punt. It generated just 45 yards on its first 19 plays and the Pack ground game was barely averaging over a yard a carry. It was a performance eerily similar to the previous three weeks against Florida State, North Carolina and Boston College. Yes the Pack did manage to score a touchdown on its opening drive of the second quarter thanks to three catches from George Bryan, but the defense provided the real boost.
"We haven't gotten the ball in the endzone as much as we would like but today we finally did it," Mike Glennon said.
In those previous three games the Pack scored a combined total of 23 points. Saturday night they scored 37. Glennon had thrown one touchdown and four interceptions over that span, averaging less than five yards per attempt. On Saturday he threw for three touchdowns and didn't throw a single pick while averaging over eight yards per pass attempt.
After the three red-zone possessions, the Pack continued to move the ball effectively. The team scored on its next three possessions – a 65-yard drive that ended in a field goal to finish the half and then a 55-yard drive that ended with another field goal before capping off its offensive night with an 85-yard touchdown drive.
"We had that bitter taste from last week in our mouth," Graham said. "This week we were hungry, we'll be more hungry coming out next week."
The challenge for the Pack now becomes carrying the offensive momentum over against Maryland. The Pack defense has done its job for three straight weeks now and there's little reason to doubt that they'll come to play against the Terrapins as well. But the Pack needs its offensive to build on the momentum from this week and score some points – otherwise Saturday's upset over the Tigers is just a nice footnote in another disappointing season.
"Here we are again in this situation," Tom O'Brien said. "How are we gonna come next week? That's the biggest question that has to be answered. We can't have a big win and then not play well next week. So the focus is already on getting ourselves ready for next week to play Maryland."