BALTIMORE, SEPT. 15 -- Maryland's attempt at a third straight upset football victory was short-circuited today amid a series of botched offensive opportunities and a disastrous decision by Maryland Coach Joe Krivak, enabling 16th-ranked Clemson to escape, 18-17, today at Memorial Stadium.

"We gave the game to them. . . . I guess the scoreboard didn't show it but I thought we were the better team," said Terrapins quarterback Scott Zolak, one of the heroes of the first two victories. That opinion was seconded by senior linebacker Glenn Page: "It's a fine line between 3-0 and 2-1. We should be 3-0 now."

A wide streak of mental and physical errors cost the Terrapins their chance to win three straight games for the first time in four years and beat the Tigers for the first time in five -- and possibly earn a ranking among the nation's top 25.

Zolak threw three interceptions, the first with 46 seconds remaining in the first half and Maryland at the Clemson 17 trying to increase a 14-10 lead.

The second came on its second possession of the second half after Maryland had recovered a fumble at the Clemson 30 and driven to the Tigers 18. Zolak's fade pass toward Gene Thomas in the end zone was picked off by Dexter Davis. The third interception, by Davis with 2:33 remaining, stopped Maryland's drive toward a potential winning field goal.

The Terrapins faced third and 10 at the Clemson 45. Marcus Badgett ran a pattern on the right sideline but Davis's coverage was excellent and he intercepted at the 34.

Maryland also didn't help itself by allowing a touchdown on a 98-yard kickoff return by Doug Thomas; it also yielded a safety after a shotgun snap from center Mitch Suplee sailed 21 yards, over the head of Zolak and into the end zone.

"If you want to talk about what cost us the game, we could sit here for three hours doing it," said Zolak, who threw for 266 yards but completed just 18 of 43 passes.

However, many in the crowd of 39,255 filed out of the stadium believing that the biggest error came with just less than 10 minutes remaining.

On third and two from the Clemson 40, Tigers quarterback DeChane Cameron overthrew Stacy Fields. On the play, the Tigers were penalized for having an ineligible receiver downfield. If Maryland had declined the penalty, it would have been fourth and two.

After the game, Krivak said he thought the infraction also carried the loss of down, that Clemson probably would not punt on fourth down and that he would have accepted the penalty even if he knew it was still third down.

So instead of having to decide whether to punt or go for it on fourth and two, Clemson had third and seven. Cameron completed a 37-yard pass to Thomas, and later threw 11 yards to tailback Rudy Harris for the go-ahead points with 7:59 to play.

The pattern "was wide open all day because of the way their linebackers had been blitzing us," Harris said.

Said Krivak: "If it was a bad play it was my responsibility, that was me. I thought it was a loss of down; they'd gone for it {on fourth down} the time before. . . . I thought that fourth and six would be tougher than fourth and one."

Hatfield refused to say if Krivak had correctly guessed that Clemson would not have punted if faced with fourth and two.

"We will never know," he said.

Maryland earlier had been cited for an identical penalty in the second quarter without losing a down. Under a rules change two years ago, the down count remained the same on this infraction.

Krivak said later that even knowing that Clemson would get third down, he still would have accepted the penalty and that decision was seconded by his players.

"At the time I thought it was wise," said defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic. " . . . I thought Coach Krivak made the right decision; they just made a big play."

The pity was that Maryland was in a position for the entire sequence to carry such weight, ultimately spoiling what appeared at one point to be a glorious coming-out party.

Since the start of preseason practice, Krivak has promised to do whatever it took to put the Terrapins in the best position to win. As if throwing the ball 88 times in the first two games wasn't enough, today -- before an audience that included a representative from the Florida Citrus Bowl -- Maryland added a number of other wrinkles.

The offense unveiled the shotgun for the first time this year, picked up 18 yards on a reverse to wide receiver Norris Hanes and gained 11 yards on a shovel pass from Zolak to H-back Frank Wycheck.

Maryland started slowly despite the gimmicks, but the defense limited Clemson (2-1) to a 53-yard field goal by Chris Gardocki on the Tigers' second possession, after cornerback Mike Hollis blocked his 51-yard attempt on the first.

Maryland began to get itself together in the second quarter, moving 79 yards in seven plays -- the last 43 coming on a pass from Zolak to Gene Thomas for a 7-3 lead. That advantage proved to be shortlived though, as Doug Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff for a 10-7 Clemson lead.

Undaunted, the Terrapins responded with a series of big plays on their next possession. After the touchdown, Andre Vaughn, playing for the first time this season after recovering from a knee injury, returned Gardocki's kick 29 yards. On third and 12 from the Maryland 47, Zolak hit Barry Johnson for 26 yards.

On the next snap Hanes moved the ball to the eight with his reverse. Four plays later Troy Johnson carried one yard for a 14-10 Maryland lead.

After stopping Clemson on its next possession, Maryland got the ball back with just more than two minutes to play in the half. Getting a boost from a 30-yard pass from Zolak to Thomas, the Terps moved from their 36 to the Tigers 17, but a second-down pass from Zolak to Thomas was picked off by cornerback Jerome Henderson.

Maryland also failed to score from inside the Clemson 30 on its first two possessions of the second half. Dan DeArmas missed a 47-yard field goal and Davis made his first interception.