By Rick Nelligan
Mirror, mirror on the desk, which team is faking and which is among the ACC’s best? This is the question that will be answered Saturday in “Death Valley.” Was Clemson just faking at the beginning of the season and is Maryland among the best teams in the ACC at 4-1? Or, are the Terps just faking - relying on luck and weaker opponents -- while Clemson simply ran into a spell of tough luck and good competition?
Clemson came into the year riding high expectations with quarterback Kyle Parker delaying his career in professional baseball to return under center. Clemson started off the season on a high note beating North Texas and Presbyterian by 25 and 37 points, respectively. The Tigers then went on to lose their next three games to Auburn, Miami, and UNC, albeit in dramatic fashion. With Auburn ranked eighth in the nation and Miami ranked in the top 25 just until this past week, they aren’t bad losses. Regardless, 2-3 and 0-2 in the ACC is not where Clemson expected to be.
Meanwhile, the Terps are among the biggest surprises in the ACC this year, in a year full of them. Maryland is 1-0 in the ACC and 4-1 overall, clearly fueled by the disappointment of last season. To begin the year, the Terps were almost unanimously picked to finish in last place in the Atlantic division of the ACC. They have since proven the doubters wrong with wins against Navy and a Duke team the Terps lost to last year.
The Terps are coming off of a bye week, giving them a full two weeks to prepare for the talented Tigers. That will be a factor in the game. On offense, the keys for the Terps will be establishing a consistent running game and converting 40-50% of third downs. I say a consistent running game because if you take away the explosive running plays (runs of 20 yards or more,) the Terps are only averaging 3.48 yards per carry. That stat really comes into play on third downs. The Terps have only converted on 25% of their third downs, and their offense has been on the field for 25 minutes or less in three of their five games. They must take pressure off of whoever their quarterback might be, as they will be facing arguably the best defensive player they'll face all year in defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Not to mention that they need to give their defense as much time on the sidelines as possible to recover.
On defense, the goal will be to neutralize Clemson’s playmakers. They have two running backs with 60+ carries, and five players with nine or more receptions. That’s a lot of guys the Terps need to slow down. The most effective way of doing this is by hitting quarterback Kyle Parker early and often. If they can make him uncomfortable in the pocket and lose trust in his offensive line, he will make hurried passes and make bad decisions. It’s the Terps' best chance of stopping the Clemson offense.
The Terps have beaten Clemson three out of the last four times, including the last two times in Death Valley. Unfortunately, I believe that trend is broken on Saturday. The Tigers will be coming in extremely hungry, and supported by one of the most raucous stadiums in the nation. In the end, I don’t believe the Maryland offensive line holds up and they'll be unable to sustain drives, giving the Clemson offense too many opportunities. My prediction: 24-14 Clemson.
Many questions will be answered on Saturday, not least of which who is a contender and who is a pretender. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong…
Box Seats blogger
| October 15, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Rick Nelligan, Terps | Tags: Rick Nelligan, Terps
Save & Share: Previous: Political Football: Divided loyalty? Not quite
Next: The People's Court: Arenas edition