In perhaps their biggest game of the year, Maryland faces off against eighth-ranked Clemson for their homecoming game. The Terps are coming off a road loss to Georgia Tech, and are looking to climb back above .500 in conference play, while the Tigers have defeated three quality opponents (Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech) on their way to a 6-0 mark and a place on top of the conference standings.
Let’s run it down, unit by unit.
Maryland Passing Offense vs. Clemson Passing Defense:
The Terps’ passing offense finally came back to reality in the national rankings last week, dropping from 51st to 84th after another awful performance. Danny O’Brien was benched in favor of C.J. Brown, and it’s unclear as of now who will start at 7 tonight. Which ever of the two ends up behind center, they’re going to have trouble finding a consistent target – Kevin Dorsey is the only guy who they’ve been able to rely on all year. With Gary Crowton’s refusal to throw to Matt Furstenburg consistently and with the case of the drops that has come over the rest of Maryland’s receiving corps, no one’s getting help.
Regardless of Clemson’s passing defense, Maryland’s never going to get the advantage here. They haven’t proven that they can pass on any defense, but let’s look at the Tigers anyway. Off the edge, they start a monster in Andre Branch (39 tackles, ten for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumble) and Malliciah Goodman (21 tackles, four for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble). At corner, they have Coty Sensabaugh (25 tackles, four passes defended, and one interception) and Xavier Brewer (22 tackles, one for a loss, four passes defended, one interception). At safety, they have Jonathan Meeks (36 tackles, three passes defended, one interception, one forced fumble) and Rashard Hall (25 tackles, one for a loss).
Maryland Rushing Offense vs. Clemson Rushing Defense:
Maryland has been using a combination of Davin Meggett and Justus Pickett in the backfield, with fairly good returns so far. Neither of them has really shown big-play ability, but they’ve been a solid combo that has combined with some help to gain 165.6 yards per game on the ground, good for 51st in the nation.
Clemson is giving up 160.33 yards per game on the ground, 72nd in the nation. They gave up over 150 yards to Michael Dyer, 272 yards to Wofford, and 123 yards to David Wilson.
On the interior defensive line, Clemson starts Rennie Moore (18 tackles, three for a loss, two sacks, two passes defended) and Brandon Thompson (24 tackles, three for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble). At linebacker, the Tigers start Jonathan Willard (39 tackles, three for a loss), Corico Hawkins (33 tackles, one for a loss) and Quandon Christian (25 tackles, two for a loss, one interception).
Clemson Passing Offense vs. Maryland Passing Defense:
This is Clemson’s forte. Tajh Boyd (119/194 for 1742 yards and 15 touchdowns against two interceptions in the air, 120 yards and three touchdowns on the ground) has pretty undoubtedly been the best quarterback in the ACC this year, and had at least four touchdowns in three straight games earlier this year. Sammy Watkins (38 receptions for 623 yards and six touchdowns) has been incredible in his true freshman campaign, and should prove to be the biggest test for Maryland’s defense. Boyd has two other good options in DeAndre Hopkins (24 receptions for 331 yards and two touchdowns) and tight end Dwayne Allen (22 receptions for 340 yards and four touchdowns).
After the game against Georgia Tech, Maryland’s pass defense numbers have gotten much better – they’re 44th in pass defense and 46th in pass efficiency defense. David Mackall (24 tackles, seven for a loss, three sacks, one forced fumble) and Keith Bowers (15 tackles, one for a loss) start on the edge for Maryland. Cameron Chism (28 tackles, two for a loss, one pass defended, one interception for a touchdown, one forced fumble), and Dexter McDougle (18 tackles, two interceptions, one pass defended) start at cornerback; Eric Franklin (43 tackles, three for a loss, two passes defended) and Titus Till (17 tackles and one for a loss).
Clemson Rushing Offense vs. Maryland Rushing Defense:
Andre Ellington is Clemson’s main guy on the ground, and is quietly having a good year, flying low on the radar compared to Boyd and Watkins. Ellington has run 115 times for 528 yards and five touchdowns, with a score in each of his last four games. Their other option in the running game, Mike Bellamy, has run 28 times for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
The Terps relatively stifled Georgia Tech’s rushing attack last year, but are ranked 98th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. To add to that, Maryland’s leading tackle in linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield will miss the game, along with fellow starters Isaiah Ross, Andre Monroe, Matt Robinson, Darin Drakeford, and probably Kenny Tate (who is listed as doubtful).
That’s 3-1 Clemson. The Tigers are a top-ten undefeated team, led by the top quarterback in the ACC and probably the top receiver as well, along with one of the top running backs. The only way Maryland can keep this is a game is with a strong presence on the ground, either with Davin Meggett or C.J. Brown. I just don’t think the secondary can handle Watkins, and he’ll torch the Terps for close to 200 yards. Clemson 31, Maryland 10.