All week, Clemson could barely wait to pick on Maryland's pass defense. It didn't take long today to see why.
Quarterback Homer Jordan passed for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the first half and the No. 2-ranked Tigers defeated Maryland, 21-7, to win their second Atlantic Coast Conference title in three years as 64,000 watched in Memorial Stadium.
As a result, the Terrapins (3-6-1, 3-2 in the ACC) left Frank Howard Field assured of their first losing record since 1971, the season before Jerry Claiborne became Terrapin coach. Maryland ends its season with a home game against Virginia next Saturday. Its loss today was the first here in five games under Claiborne.
Clemson (10-0, 6-0) sustained its hopes for an undefeated season, a major bowl bid and a national championship, with only South Carolina left on its regular-season schedule.
The Terrapins came here hoping to claim a share of the conference title and salvage some pride. But they left embarrassed because of the way the Tigers brashly approached this game.
"We planned to throw more than we had all year," said Jordan, who attempted and completed more passes than in any of the previous nine games this season. Clemson had been next to last in conference passing with 137 yards a game, with Jordan averaging eight completions and 15 throws.
But Maryland was largely responsible for Clemson's success. As Claiborne indicated, a better job of tackling could have erased about a third of Jordan's passing yardage.
"Our secondary and undercoverage (linebackers) people have problems on pass defense," Claiborne said. "We know that. Still, if we had made the tackles, we could have kept this game closer. We let Jordan scramble entirely too much and he had too much time to throw. You can't cover receivers forever."
Maryland defensive tackle Greg Vanderhout agreed. "We lost our containment on Jordan too many times," he said. "We'd have him trapped, but he'd slip out of tackles or we would overrun him. He was just like a little jitterbug, always slipping away." Linebacker Joe Wilkins said he could remember at least a half-dozen three- or four-yard passes that turned into 10- or 12-yard gains because of missed tackles.
Besides passing for 270 yards today, Jordan rushed for 42 and repeatedly scrambled away from Maryland's usually threatening pass rush.
Ten of his completions went to senior Perry Tuttle, who became Clemson's all-time leading receiver. He gained 151 yards, catching the first two touchdown passes. Both times he beat Terrapin cornerback Dave Taylor.
Starting a drive at the Tiger 39, Jordan completed passes of 15 and 18 yards to Tuttle and Frank Magwood. Between short runs by Chuck McSwain and Cliff Austin, Jordan passed eight yards to Kendall Alley and Clemson was at the Maryland 14.
On second and eight, Tuttle beat linebacker Darnell Dailey and Taylor into the right corner of the end zone to catch a cross-field timing pass from Jordan. Clemson led, 7-0, with four seconds left in the first quarter.
The Maryland offense did not produce a first down that quarter. Quarterback Norman (Boomer) Esiason, who said he had "a lousy first half," several times overthrew receivers and his running backs gained only 13 yards in 14 carries.
Clemson increased its lead to 14-0 with six minutes left in the second quarter after Jordan finished an 88-yard drive with a five-yard slant-in pass to Tuttle for the touchdown.
"We knew they would try to throw on us more than they usually do," said cornerback Lendell Jones. "And they did it. We thought we could hold them, but we had mixups in our coverages."
Clemson's most impressive drive came with two minutes left before halftime. Esiason, who completed 15 of 38 passes for 167 yards, was sacked on fourth and five, giving Clemson the ball at its 45.
The Tigers took just 46 seconds to score. Jordan, on first down, threw to Tuttle for a 30-yard gain to the Maryland 25. Safety Wayne Wingfield was beaten on that play. Jordan then passed 13 yards to Magwood, Wingfield being victimized again. On the next play, Jordan threw 12 yards to senior receiver Jerry Gaillard, who beat substitute left cornerback Tim Quander for the touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Maryland's first bid to score was ruined when Esiason's fourth-down, four-yard pass to fullback John Nash late in the third quarter was nullified by pass interference called in the end zone against receiver Russell Davis, resulting in loss of down. Tailback Charlie Wysocki led that 80-yard drive with 35 of his 59 yards rushing.
Finally, a Clemson turnover two minutes into the fourth quarter gave Maryland a touchdown.
On third and seven from his 20, Jordan dropped back to pass. He was sacked at the 12 by defensive guard Mike Corvino, who also knocked loose the ball. Tackle Gurnest Brown fell on it at the seven.
On the next play, Wysocki swept left end to score.
The Terrapins couldn't generate anything after that. Claiborne substituted senior quarterback Bob Milkovich for Esiason, but he was penalized twice for delay of game and completed only three of seven passes against a Clemson defense that was rushing heavily on every down.
"At halftime, I really felt we were going to come back," Esiason said. "It was that first half that killed us. I made a lot of mistakes, and everybody was inconsistent. It was the offense as much as the defense."
Clemson also rushed for 199 yards, against a defense ranked No. 3 in the nation against the run. Many of those yards came after halftime, with Clemson content to sit on its 21-0 lead.