Maryland Topples Clemson
Sunday, September 28, 2008
CLEMSON, S.C., Sept. 27 -- When Ralph Friedgen walked into Memorial Stadium's visitors' locker room at halftime Saturday, an official tried to hand Maryland's head coach a stat sheet. Friedgen refused it. He didn't need to see numerical evidence to know Clemson had dominated his Terrapins in almost every conceivable fashion.
But instead of lambasting players, Friedgen told them they were fortunate to face just an 11-point deficit because they could not play any worse. Coordinators feverishly searched for adjustments to change the game's tenor. And Jeremy Navarre, a senior defensive lineman who rarely takes on a vocal role, stood, yelled, cursed and told players: "Let's wake up!"
After undergoing a dramatic halftime makeover, the Terrapins emerged from the locker room a different team. They corrected their first-half deficiencies and rallied to a 20-17 victory over No. 20 Clemson that will stand as one of the more improbable turnarounds in Friedgen's tenure. By beating the ACC's preseason favorite, and doing it before a hostile crowd of 81,500, the Terrapins showed they have as good a chance as any team to win the conference title.
"We won this game with our hearts, not with our ability or technique," Friedgen said. "They grinded it out with will. It was who was going to make the least amount of mistakes in the second half. Weird game."
Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC) delivered the quintessential uneven performance in a season that has been defined by them. After allowing 195 rushing yards in the first half, the Terrapins gave up just 26 in the second half. After being unable to sustain a drive in the first half, the Terrapins engineered two of at least seven plays in the fourth quarter alone.
"It is very frustrating and very exciting at the same time," Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin said of the team's inconsistent nature.
In the first half, Maryland defensive coordinator Chris Cosh had no answer for heralded Clemson running backs C.J. Spiller and James Davis, both of whom had touchdown runs of more than 30 yards. But after the game, Cosh calmly stood outside the locker room with hands on hips, his tie neatly knotted and not a bead of sweat on his forehead, as if ending an uneventful day at the office.
"Nah, I'm sweating," Cosh said. "We keep it interesting, don't we? We like the TV ratings to be high."
During the game's first 30 minutes, Clemson gashed Maryland's defense with run after run. Navarre called it the worst Maryland football anyone will ever see and said the Terrapins were fortunate not to trail by four touchdowns at halftime.
Three plays in the first half prevented Clemson (3-2, 1-1) from distancing itself on the scoreboard.
Maryland's Andrew Schmitt recovered a fumbled punt at the Clemson 18, which led to a 23-yard field goal. Linebacker Adrian Moten then recovered a lateral by Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper that was deflected by lineman Jared Harrell. And the Terrapins kept the drive alive when quarterback Chris Turner's pass bounced off Torrey Smith's back and landed in Ronnie Tyler's hands. Obi Egekeze then kicked a 30-yard field goal.
Maryland's prospects remained bleak until midway through the third quarter, when Franklin called a play that he had been tempted to use earlier. Seeing that the Tigers were over-pursuing, Franklin opted to throw them off balance with a reverse. On first down, Darrius Heyward-Bey took a handoff and raced 76 yards to the Clemson 4, setting up Turner's touchdown pass to Smith.
"It was a huge shift of momentum," Turner said of Heyward-Bey's run, the longest Maryland run in five seasons. "Without that, I don't know if we have the same result."
With a little less than six minutes remaining, Maryland's defense needed a stop to preserve its lead. Clemson faced a fourth and one play from the Maryland 40, and the Terrapins knew Harper would try a quarterback sneak. Linebacker Alex Wujciak, who made 16 tackles Saturday, edged closer to the line of scrimmage and helped stuff Harper a few inches short of the first-down marker.
Maryland's offense ran out the clock with an eight-play drive that included two crucial third-down passes from Turner, who completed 16 of 30 passes overall for 172 yards. Afterward, Maryland players sprinted to the locker room. A few climbed the small wall that separates the field from the stands. A gathering of Maryland players, coaches and fans later rejoiced near the team bus. Otherwise, Death Valley was nearly silent.
"It is very quiet," said Navarre, a wide smile on his face. "That's when you know you did your job."