Sunday, September 28, 2008

Terps outlast Clemson

As head coach Ralph Friedgen hinted afterwards this was a game that Maryland had no business winning. After being thoroughly dominated in the 1st half the Terps made an improbable comeback and shut out the Tigers in the 2nd half to escape with a 20-17 victory. There wasn't any aspect of the game that ended up looking great for Maryland. Clemson outgained the Terps by almost 100 yards on the ground, had eight more first downs, won time of possession, ran more plays, had more yards per pass and rushing attempt, and had fewer penalties.

About the only thing Maryland did better was protect the football. When the Tigers had a chance to put Maryland away for good early in the game they fumbled the ball twice, one on a punt return and once on a tipped lateral pass, and gave Maryland six points and a little hope they could turn things around. The Terps we lucky to only be trailing 17-6 at halftime because it should have been much worse the way Clemson was marching up and down the field. In games like this one the first 7 minutes of the 3rd quarter are usually decisive and this game wasn't any different. After an inept Maryland possession that included two penalties the defense forced Clemson to punt with the assistance of two penalties on the Tigers one of which negated a second down and short situation.

When Maryland got the ball back on its own 20 yard line offensive coordinator James Franklin decided to use Clemson's aggressiveness against them and called a reverse to Darrius Heyward-Bey who streaked 76 yards down field to the Tiger's 4 yard line. Heyward-Bey struggled most of the game with Clemson's double coverage and when he did have chances the ball went through his hands twice. Like the rest of the team when the situation called for a big play he rose to the occasion. Two plays later Chris Turner threw a touchdown to Torrey Smith to close the gap to 17-13 and the game changed in an instant. The swagger that Clemson had shown in the first half was gone. After Maryland scored to cut the lead to 4 points Clemson's offense went sour with just four rushing yards and 69 passing yards. Cullen Harper did go 9/12 to end the game but many of those passes were dump off routes as shown by the 5.75 yards per attempt during that stretch. Only a phenomenal 17 yard run after the catch by C.J. Spiller, and some horrendous tackling, allowed Clemson to stay alive. Harper was stuffed on a 4th down play that I'm sure Tiger fans will be griping about until next season. I thought the spot was fairly good and after the officials reviewed it they confirmed that Clemson was short of the first down. A heady play by safety Terrell Skinner prevented Harper from extending to reach the first down on second effort.

Maryland was able to run out the clock with a five minute drive that included two game sealing third down completions by Chris Turner on third and eight and third and four respectively. While Turner was erratic in the early part of the game he settled down and had some really great reads in the 2nd half. He went 7/11 for 101 yards on Maryland's last three possessions. I was pleased to see Turner looking to Danny Oquendo, who is a warrior at the slot receiver position, on the critical drive to take the lead. With Heyward-Bey being blanketed the sure handed Oquendo found the seams in the coverage and made some tough over the middle grabs while getting blasted. To me he should get the game ball on offense. Turner wasn't helped by his receivers in the first half as both Heyward-Bey and Isaiah Williams dropped passes they should have caught, in Williams case it should have been a touchdown.

The offensive line had a bizarre day as the run blocking was awful and they were bedeviled by false starts and holding penalties. Yet their pass blocking, which has been an ongoing weakness, was decent enough in the 2nd half for Turner to find his targets. They had five false starts (two of which were inside the Clemson 10 yard line) and at least one holding penalty. I think one holding call was on Landsford Watson at the end of the game.  Turner helped his line by getting rid of the ball quickly and avoiding the Clemson pass rush. Take out the 76 yard run by Heyward-Bey and the team had 27 rushes for 63 yards for an average of 2.3 yards per carry. The power running game evaporated against Clemson and their fast and aggressive secondary and linebackers.

I have been a vocal critic of defensive coordinator Chris Cosh but I will give him his due in this game. For the first time he actually went into halftime and changed a scheme that wasn't working to a plan that actually had success. I'm not sure what he was doing in the first half as he normally had seven or even six defenders in the box resulting in Spiller and James Davis looking like they were part of some track relay race. Clemson does try and spread teams out so they can attack with Spiller and Davis but Cullen Harper has not proven that he can beat anyone on his own this year so why not make him beat you instead. Stack more players inside, bring the safety up and challenge Harper to make plays passing. I'll have to look more closely at the second half film to see what precisely were the adjustments that Ralph Friedgen said they have never even practiced before Saturday. The pass rush was certainly better in the 2nd half and Clemson helped with several critical penalties including a personal foul on Clemson's last drive that put them in third and long.

Other notes:

I'm not sure Da'Rel Scott is really healthy right now. Clemson's defense may have had something to do with that but he looked tentative out there. He tried running away from defenders more often than in the first three games. I guess Davin Meggett's hamstring may be worse than we thought because he only came in once.

Dan Gronkowsi continues to be a very good weapon in the passing game with over 20 yard per catch yesterday. With all the attention Heyward-Bey receives Gronkowski and Landsford Watson will get some opportunities in the passing game.

Alex Wujciak had a nice game with 16 tackles but 13 of those were assists, he isn't E.J. Henderson yet.

Dave Philistin needs to learn how to shed blockers and not just be a guy who can only make plays if he is running free. He looked like Deon Sanders in the first half playing paddy cake with Clemson's banged up and inexperienced offensive line.

Dean Muhtadi is a pure effort guy. His skills are marginal but he will never give up and that usually pays off in the 2nd half of games like when he got a critical sack after Maryland had closed the gap to 17-13. It put Clemson in a third and long and resulted in a punt.

Jamari McCollough picked off another pass to make it three in the last two games. After losing most of his first two years with a knee injury he is making tremendous strides this year. Odds on favorite to start at safety next season and he'll make some big plays for Maryland down the stretch this year as well.


DOsr said...

Whats up, Esquire? Good weekend for the Terps!! My little man(#17) looked good out there. He got smashed a few times and had me worried especially the hit before halftime. He took his time getting up but made it to the second half. I always tell everyone the boy can catch and he sure makes it to the big games with his hard hat and lunch box ready for whatever!! The whole Terrapin gang needs to take a step back and enjoy this win but only for a few minutes. Virginia 's coming (trap game). Go Terps, peace Esquire. Doing a helluva job with the insight.

Esquire said...

Good call on Oquendo. With all the attention that Heyward-Bey is getting the offense needs someone like Oquendo to step up and get open with one-on-one coverage. Isaiah Williams is too inconsistent and the other young pups are not ready. He is Johnny on the spot at the moment. Some of Turner's throws almost got him killed but he just goes and gets the ball over the middle. He runs great routes and has the best hands on the team. Turner will learn to look for #17 on critical third downs.

Virginia is a trap game indeed. We'll see how mature this group is based on how they prepare for the Wahoos. They will be ready to make amends for an embarrassing loss to Duke.

Anonymous said...

All in all, a decent job, although in the big wins over Cal and Clemson the team couldn't seem to put two good halves together. Still, they beat two ranked teams after looking sad against lesser opponents. Though an ugly win is better than a competent loss, it is very true that consistency must improve. You can't depend on your opponents making major errors, as Cal and Clemson both did.