The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (5-2) vs. Clemson Tigers (6-1)
The Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park, MD
The Time: 3:30 p.m.
Tickets: Maryland football tickets
TV, Radio, Internet: ESPN, ESPN 980 (Radio)
The Coaches: Randy Edsall (11-20, third season at Maryland) and Dabo Swinney (39-21, fourth season)
Last Meeting: It certainly wasn’t a pretty site when Maryland travelled to Death Valley a season ago. Linebacker Shawn Petty was at the helm at quarterback and things looked bleak for the Terps. Maryland was outscored 35-7 in the first half and Clemson rolled to an easy 45-10 victory. Quarterback Tahj Boyd tossed three touchdowns and the only bright spot for Maryland was running back Brandon Ross rushing for 100 yards on 16 carries.
Meeting The Opposition: Despite being dominated by Florida State last weekend, Clemson remains an extremely talented football team.
It all starts with quarterback Tahj Boyd. Boyd is a dual-threat, but a lot more talented than your average running signal caller. The Clemson offense does utilize several designed running plays for Boyd. However, if opposing defenses give him time, he can stand in the pocket and pick teams apart all day. Boyd has thrown for 1,939 yards (63 percent completion percentage) to go along with 16 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He also has 195 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Boyd is the ultimate weapon, plain and simple.
One of the most underrated parts of the Clemson offense is their rushing attack. Roderick McDowell sat behind Andre Ellington last year and has made the transition to full-time starter beautifully. McDowell is a very talented back that has the speed to get the corner and run through the tackles. He’s a very patient runner and has great vision. McDowell is averaging 5.0 yards-per-carry and has really shined when he’s carried the ball this year. Clemson doesn’t run the ball a ton, but they’re usually successful when they do.
If you’re talking about playmakers on the Clemson offense, you have to start with wideout Sammy Watkins. Watkins enters the week ranking third in the ACC in receiving yards (650) and only trails Jamison Crowder (Duke) and Michael Campanaro (Wake Forest) for the top spot. Watkins is one of the most dangerous players in college football when he gets in the open field. He may not be the biggest guy in the world, but his speed makes for it.
The Tigers have at least two other wideouts with at least 300 receiving yards in Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries. Humphries is a very underrated receiver that opposing teams need to watch out for on every play. The junior wideout is in the Wes Welker mold and has the speed to make guys miss. On the other hand, Bryant is a guy that some say has just as much speed as Watkins. He has the ability to go up and grab a jump ball. The athleticism of Clemson’s receivers is amazing and Maryland is certainly going to have their hands full on Saturday.
While most of the talk center around the offense, Clemson has a very talented defensive unit. The Tigers sit atop the ACC with 27 sacks. That is bad news for a Terps offensive line that has struggled at various points this season. Junior defensive lineman Vic Beasley leads the nation with nine sacks and is averaging 1.29 sacks-per-game. Beasley is the perfect combination of speed and strength.
The Georgia native can rush the passer off the edge lined up as a defensive end or off the edge as a stand-up linebacker. Beasley is coming off a season in which he had a team-high eight sacks. As a redshirt junior this season, Beasley is playing an extremely high level. He’s a very intelligent defensive lineman that even has a fumble return for a touchdown (against Boston College). The Tigers also have four other members of their front seven that have at least two sacks. Junior linebacker Stephone Anthony has 4.5 sacks and has three of those sacks in the past two games against Boston College and powerhouse Florida State.
Key Questions and Storylines:
1.) How will Maryland attempt to replace the production of wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long?
Maryland seems to be cursed when it comes to injuries over the past two seasons. In 2012, it was the year of the torn ACL for every Terp quarterback that took the field, save for linebacker-turned-signal caller Shawn Petty. As if losing the likes of Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson, Matt Robinson, and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil wasn’t bad enough, Maryland was dealt a true gut punch when Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both broke their legs last Saturday against Wake Forest. The duo was expected to be one of the most talented in the ACC and maybe even the entire country.
Now begs the question: how do the Terps even attempt the replace a semblance of the production that Diggs and Long had this season?
The primary new options will likely be wideouts Levern Jacobs, Nigel King, and tight end Dave Stinebaugh. Jacobs is a guy that could help fill the void in a big way. In limited playing time this season, the Maryland native has caught 13 passes 245 yards and one touchdown. He has caught a pass in all but one game (Old Dominion) and caught his first touchdown last week when he had a 56 yard catch-and-run from quarterback Caleb Rowe. Obviously, Jacobs has a small sample size, but could be a very nice replacement.
2.) How will Caleb Rowe do against the Clemson defense?
Clemson has a very talented front seven that is capable of getting to the quarterback in a moment’s notice. The Tigers have a ton of speed off the edge and that is going to test Caleb Rowe early and often. In parts of five games this season, Rowe has completed 44 of 85 passes (51.8 completion percentage) with two touchdowns and one interception. He has only been sacked four times, which bodes well for his ability to avoid the Clemson pass rush. Rowe is going to have to be vigilant of pass rushers and will need to get the ball out as quickly as possible. In his only start against Virginia two weeks ago, the South Carolina native played pretty well. Rowe passed for 332 yards and a touchdown in a narrow victory. He has a solid grasp of the offense, but did fumble the football once while in the pocket. He has the experience to excel, but facing the Tigers stout defense is going to present quite the challenge for the sophomore signal caller.
3.) Can Maryland slow down the high-powered Clemson offense?
Well, this seems to be the daunting task of the game for the Terps. Maryland’s defense has been less-than-stellar as of late. The Terps haven’t forced a turnover in the past three games and haven’t had much of a pass rush either. Linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil was a huge loss as he was very effective as a pass rusher for Maryland. It’s all going to be about getting pressure on Tahj Boyd. The likes of Marcus Whitfield and either Quinton Jefferson or Keith Bowers need to get back on track. Even if the Maryland pass rush isn’t able to sack Boyd, it’ll be important to get their licks in and possibly put a little bit of doubt in his mind. Perhaps if Boyd chooses to run the ball and Maryland can lay a big hit or two on him, it may also make him think twice about running.
The Terrapins will win if:
A.) Tahj Boyd turns the ball over multiple times
B.) Clemson has one of their few offensive playmakers go down
The Terrapins will lose if:
A.) C.J. Brown or Caleb Rowe turn the ball over and don’t find chemistry with the receivers
B.) The defense is absolutely torched by Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins