Friday, September 26, 2008

Pregame Thoughts: Maryland-Clemson

So here we are, the start of the ACC schedule in a season that has already been a roller coaster in classic fashion. The Terps come into this game with the confidence that they can beat anyone (Cal) when they focus themselves and the knowledge that they can lose to anyone (MTSU) when they let their guard down for a moment. This game is a classic litmus test, where the identity of this team could be revealed. Over the past two weeks Maryland has accomplished what they’ve needed to, in (1) beating a major power and (2) flexing offensive dominance over an inferior team.

Make no mistake; Clemson needs this game to establish their identity as much as the Terps. The only significant competition Clemson has faced was Alabama, where they were entirely dominated from the opening kickoff which resulted in their only loss this year. Since then Clemson has dominated creampuff competition; which one is real? For Clemson fans that might be answered this weekend. As for a few questions Maryland looks to have answered…

Can Chris Turner step up on the big stage?
Terrapin fans wanted Turner to put up back-to-back solid games and he did just that. Now, Turner will be asked to put up not just a solid but a great game. Clemson will score a good number of points; that’s an assumption that this offense has to make. It will be up to Turner to make sound decisions and to effectively go through his progression. He must be capable of finding his second, third options, as Clemson will key in on Heyward-Bey and try to scheme him out of the game. This should open up opportunities for Isaiah Williams, Danny Oquendo, Torrey Smith, and Dan Gronkowski among others.

Will the secondary be able to hold down Clemson’s passing game? The big question mark on this defense is the poor performance and lack of depth in the secondary. The secondary was torched against Cal in the fourth quarter and struggled with EMU’s passing game. As a related question, Terp fans have to wonder which pass rush will show up. Will it be the one that put on consistent pressure against Cal, or the one that has struggled to get even mild pressure against any other team? That, more than anything else, might be the key for the secondary’s success or failure. One name to watch: Cameron Chism, freshman cornerback – fantastic athlete who Friedgen wanted to redshirt but has been put into duty because of the need for cornerbacks, and is expected to see some playing time. How much is yet to be determined.

Will the Terps continue their dominance in the ground game? The Terrapins have shut down every rushing offense they have faced, and the Da’Rell Scott-led running corps has been nothing short of outstanding. The problem is that none of the Terrapin’s opponents have had the sort of neither two-headed running attack that Clemson has, nor the superior size on the defensive line that Clemson has. The Cal Bears sported a top running game and was shut down by this front seven, but whether the Terps will be able to do the same to CJ Spiller and James Davis (who have historically had significant success against Maryland) is still a big question. The running game offensively for the Terps last week was lackluster against EMU, but the loss of Da’Rell Scott clearly hurt as Davin Meggett was shown to be clearly not ready for the starting role. With Da’Rell Scott coming back from injury, I expect Meggett to still thrive as a secondary back to come in after Scott has worn the defense down. Also keep in mind that Josh Portis led the Terps in rushing last game against EMU, so he could be yet another wildcard in this game.

Can Egekeze make them when they matter? Egekeze finally has made a field goal. Check. He has made multiple field goals. Check. He has made a clutch field goal. Not yet. If Maryland is going to win by this game, it will almost certainly come down to a very small margin and Egekeze very well might be the difference. Now that he has some confidence maybe, just maybe, he can become the hero and not the goat.

Those are just a few points that are important to look out for. While both teams sport excellent running attacks, I expect this game to be decided on the arms of both quarterbacks and this game to become something of a shootout. Call it a hunch.

The Terps have a chip on their shoulder and know that they have a real shot of entering the mix for the ACC title this year. That being said, it’s hard to call the upset with such overwhelming firepower for Clemson against a banged-up Maryland defense.

Prediction: Clemson, 35-21

Photo Credit: (Baltimore Sun:Doug Kapustin), (AP: Richard Shiro)

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