Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pregame: Maryland vs. Clemson

ACC play begins today for Maryland after a very rough out-of-conference time. The Terps came up just 1-3, with no wins against the three FBS teams they played, capped by a 34-13 embarrassment from Rutgers at home. Chris Turner may be overly-optimistic, but he is right on something, if they do well enough in the ACC, they could go to the Orange Bowl. The "first game to the Orange Bowl" will have to start against the orange team, the Clemson Tigers.

The Maryland Terrains (1-3) host the Clemson Tigers (2-2) in their fourth home game in a row. Maryland begins conference play while Clemson will play their third game against the ACC, going 1-1 with a win over Boston College and a loss to Georgia Tech. The last four times these two have played, the road team was the victor. Clemson leads the overall series 30-25-2. So far this season the two have only had one common opponent: Clemson defeated Middle Tennessee 37-14 while the Terps lost to them 32-31.

In Maryland's current state at 1-3, they will need to go at least 5-3 in conference play to have any chance at a bowl game.

Scouting the Competition: Clemson Tigers

Clemson has changed a lot since Maryland last saw them. Dabo Swinney took over as head coach and got the job after leading the Tigers to a win over South Carolina plus a bowl game. He has had a slow start with his squad thus far, but both losses were to ranked teams and only by a score.

The Tigers are led on offense by senior C.J. Spiller (pictured), an explosive running back that also runs track for the Tigers. He is the primary running back and primary returner, averaging 214.3 all-purpose yards a game, though so far just 4.3 yards per rush. Passing the ball is redshirt freshman Kyle Parker, who has only a 47% completion rate. He does have a prime receiving threat, senior wideout Jacoby Ford, who has 20 catches on the season.

Clemson has a solid defense, but not an invulnerable one. The line is led by senior defensive end Ricky Sapp, who has two sacks and six tackles for loss. The linebacker core is led by redshirt senior Kavell Connor with 26 tackles and a player who has been important for years at Clemson. In the secondary, the Tigers are tied for #4 in the country in interceptions with eight, led by junior safety DeAndre McDaniel's four. McDaniel is also the leader in tackles with 34, which means he is all around the field.

Things to Look For:
1. Can Maryland rely on Da'Rel Scott?
The way to beat Clemson is hitting them hard and often with the rush. Maryland has only one running back, Scott, that can effectively run the ball, as any other backups, including Davin Meggett and others, apparently have not shown enough to James Franklin. Scott has had success when he's held onto the ball, but Maryland has suffered problems due to his fumbling the last two games. With the strong play from the Clemson secondary, the Terps need their best runner to play well. This may depend on how much patience Friedgen and Franklin have with Scott, as they have taken him out on occasions due to the fumbling.

2. Will Maryland show some defense?
The Terps have allowed 38.3 points per game, which is the sixth-worst among FBS teams. Three of the games were against teams without BCS rankings. Injuries to the secondary have been very problematic for Maryland. The fact is the defense needs to show their strength soon. Against Rutgers for three quarters the defense looked solid, but the fourth was a mess due to two long rushing touchdowns. Don Brown's defense cannot allow the same to happen with Clemson, as C.J. Spiller has the potential to be a dangerous weapon if not kept in check.

3. Can Maryland bounce back?
It has been a terrible start for Maryland. Everyone, including Friedgen, Franklin, Chris Turner and the rest of the squad are all coming under fire. In recent history the Terps have been able to bounce back in troublesome situations, but this team may not have what it takes to do that. The fact is Maryland needs a comeback, and it may be too late if they don't win today. With the season possibly on the line and everyone criticizing Maryland's players and personnel, can Maryland get on track?

4. Will the loss of Travis Baltz hurt Maryland?
Baltz, Maryland's reliable punter, is out for the game, and Nick Ferrera will kick and punt for the Terps. Baltz has been amazing for Maryland and has been very helpful in pinning down opponents, and with him out, the Terps need a freshman to be effective. Without Baltz, a key part of Maryland's special teams is gone, and it may hurt Maryland's chances.

This game can be won by Maryland, and if they play everything right they have a chance. But Clemson is physically a stronger team and has done better against better competition. When it comes down to it, I don't believe Maryland has enough to stop Clemson. C.J. Spiller might be the difference-maker with a problematic Maryland defensive line.

Clemson 24, Maryland 13

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun (Terps), SI (Spiller))

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