Maryland got it half right against longtime nemesis Clemson, scoring twice as many points yesterday at Byrd Stadium as it had in the past six games in the series combined. However, the defense stumbled and the high-octane Tigers grabbed what could be a pivotal Atlantic Coast Conference victory, 42-30.
Maryland Coach Ron Vanderlinden described the performance as "awful" and scattered blame among his staff and players for allowing Clemson sophomore quarterback Woodrow Dantzler to break a 47-year-old school record for total offense in just his second career start.
"Some decisions didn't turn out to be good decisions in how we prepared for this team," Vanderlinden said. "All that aside, we should not have allowed 542 yards."
Dantzler accounted for 435 of those yards, running for 183 on 22 carries and passing for 252. He sailed past Bobby Gage's record of 374 yards before the fourth quarter began. Dantzler was directly responsible for just one touchdown, a 23-yard run midway through the first quarter, but his efforts set up three touchdown runs by tailback Travis Zachery and two by Zachery's backup, Bernard Rambert.
That overshadowed a remarkable performance by Maryland tailback LaMont Jordan, who scored four touchdowns on a career-high 177 yards on 26 carries. His touchdown output tied three others for the most ever in a game against Clemson. Maryland is averaging 28 points, its highest after six games in 17 years.
There was a lot that Maryland (4-2, 1-2) didn't expect--and the loss was especially disappointing, coming at the start of a stretch of three home games it was counting on to establish the six victories needed to gain a bowl bid.
"We're not out of reach of anything," said defensive end Peter Timmins. "This is basically going to say: 'Are we going to be men about it? Take a loss [and bounce back]. Or are we going to sit down and mourn this for the next week and have North Carolina come in and push us around like Clemson did?"
The Tigers (3-3, 3-1) mostly surprised Maryland with how quickly they ran an offense that features very few huddles. They always countered the best Maryland's offense could muster--and then pulled away by scoring 21 of the game's final 27 points.
The Terrapins scored on their first possession; Clemson came right back and tied the game. Maryland gained a 24-21 lead on Jordan's 17-yard run after 25- and 35-yard completions by quarterback Calvin McCall. Less than six minutes later, Clemson caught Maryland in one of its late changes of personnel near the goal line and gained the lead for good, 28-24, on Zachery's 13-yard run.
By the time the fourth quarter was two minutes old, the Tigers had produced two more long drives that ended in short touchdown runs by Bernard Rambert and gained a 42-24 advantage. After Jordan's one-yard run and a failed two-point conversion midway through the final period, Jason Hatala nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown. But McCall soon was thrown for a loss on fourth and 25.
Dantzler pulled Clemson out of several deep holes, the most embarrassing one for Maryland on the drive that ended with its final touchdown. On second and 29, split end Rod Gardner beat cornerback Lewis Sanders on a stop-and-go move down the right sideline and outleaped safety Rod Littles for a 43-yard gain. Four of Clemson's six touchdowns were on drives of at least 78 yards.
"Woody was very impressive, very calm, very collected," said first-year Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, who added that Dantzler reacted in ways a much more experienced quarterback might not have. He became the starter during the North Carolina game three weeks ago, when Brandon Streeter broke his collarbone.
Vanderlinden said he probably should have had a faster quarterback imitate Dantzler for the first-string defense in last week's practices. The scheme often included six defensive backs to counter Clemson's spreading the field with four and five receivers and Vanderlinden admitted: "That really came back to bite us in the run game. We were very vulnerable."
Added Timmins: "If I'd have been the quarterback, I'd have run the ball too."
One of Maryland's problems was losing free safety Shawn Forte early to a pinched nerve in his neck. Forte had had to assume leadership of the defense after Tony Jackson broke an ankle in the first game in the season.
"We [frequently] couldn't get our pre-snap reads," linebacker Marlon Moore said. "We reacted to some things late."
When asked it he might change his defensive lineup, Vanderlinden said: "There's not a lot of personnel [available] to change."