CLEMSON, S.C. — All week, the Maryland football team stressed ball security to its newest quarterback. To even have a fighting chance against 10th-ranked Clemson’s high-powered offense, deep in Death Valley, the Terrapins knew that clock control was be at a premium. Minimize turnovers, and Maryland might actually hang with the Tigers.
But Maryland self-destructed early and often Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Just 12 seconds after Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd rifled a pinpoint laser over the middle to a diving Adam Humphries from 13 yards out to take a 7-0 lead, Maryland quarterback Shawn Petty found himself flushed out of the pocket, rolling to his left, just looking to avoid a sack.
So the true freshman, who began the season as a scout team linebacker but, through the Terps’ cruel marriage to the mistress of misfortune, has been elevated to Maryland’s starting quarterback, tried to do what he was taught. He would throw it out of bounds on first and 10 from the Maryland 25, line up again and keep powering through.
Petty whipped forward his left arm, sculpted from months lifting as a defensive player, but the ball never traveled with it. He fired nothing through the crisp November air, while the football squirted on the ground behind him. Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford picked it up and wound up in the end zone for a 16-yard defensive touchdown.
After Maryland’s 45-10 loss, one week after a 33-13 defeat against Georgia Tech at Byrd Stadium, Petty again faced reporters and again accepted blame for the turnovers got put the Terps behind early.
“All week, they stressed just make sure I don’t turn the ball over,” Petty said. “I was holding the ball loosely, had three turnovers, and they were very critical. We can’t move the ball if I’m turning it over, so we just have to make sure I get on that, work on carrying the ball high and tight, and not letting it go. If we don’t turn the ball over, we can move it.
“Just being careless. I need to make sure I make an emphasis on holding onto the ball. That’s the focal point of our offense. Don’t turn the ball over. I went out there and didn’t execute. It’s all on me.”
Maryland forced three turnovers of its own but capitalized only off a muffed punt that turned into a 17-yard second-quarter touchdown from Petty to tight end Devonte Campbell. Midway through the first quarter, when defensive lineman Joe Vellano popped quarterback Tajh Boyd at the line of scrimmage and pounced on the lost fumble, Petty immediately got sacked on the next play and coughed it up. That led to a 28-yard touchdown pass from Boyd to DeAndre Hopkins.
“That’s what’s most frustrating,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “Shawn has been put into a difficult situation, no question about that. The one thing that we’ve tried to stress to him is: ‘Just don’t turn the ball over. Secure the ball.’ He’s got some bad habits that we haven’t been able to get him out of in the time that we’ve worked with him as a quarterback — carrying the ball too low, not putting two hands on the ball when he goes in there.
“So that’s something we’ve just got to continue to stress. But if we don’t turn it over, we can punt the ball and give them a longer field and be able to play better defense. Today, we gave them seven points on the fumble. That’s what we’ve really got to try to eliminate.”
High expectations for the Eleanor Roosevelt product who’s been forced to grow up faster than ever imaginable. But these are dire situations for the reeling Terrapins, who have now lost four straight and face the nation’s top-ranked defense in Florida State in their Byrd Stadium finale next Saturday.
“We have to stop beating ourselves,” defensive lineman Joe Vellano said. “Turnovers, big plays on defense, stuff like that. It’s hard to beat teams like this, without question they have a lot of good athletes.”
That Maryland allowed 11 pass plays of at least 10 yards before halftime certainly didn’t help matters either. The Terps preached avoiding the big play against the Tigers, making Boyd and company “go the long way,” as Edsall said, while holding in the red zone and forcing field goals. Once, Maryland held strong on a goal-line stand, when Matt Robinson cracked Boyd just before the end zone and forced a fumble. But the Tigers were 6 of 14 on first down, 3 of 3 on third down and 5 of 6 on scoring red zone scoring opportunities.
“Clemson’s a terrific offense. Not taking anything away from them,” senior linebacker Cole Farrand said. “They’re one of the top offenses in the nation, let alone the ACC. It was going to be hard game-planning for them, but we thought we had a good game plan. I think we did show that, when we are playing to our potential, we can stop them like we did the first drive, like we were doing other times in the second half. There were some little hiccups here and there. It’s hard to stop those because Clemson has such an explosive offense.”
Said Robinson: “It was definitely a really big challenge. We knew they’d be a lot faster, more prototype receivers than West Virginia. Unfortunately we let a couple big plays early. Just let them get up on mistakes.”
A trend the Terps are desperately trying to reverse.