CLEMSON, S.C. — As a November shadow slowly crept across Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the Maryland football team reached another dark moment of an already luckless season. Beset by a mind-boggling number of injuries, the Terrapins ran into a buzzsaw against 10th-ranked Clemson, following yet another week of misfortune with a 45-10 loss to the Tigers.
Without its top rusher (Wes Brown, out with an ankle injury), tackler (Demetrius Hartsfield, who tore his ACL against the Yellow Jackets) and most dynamic offensive threat (Stefon Diggs, also out with an injured ankle), not to mention four scholarship quarterbacks, Maryland was overmatched against a powerful and motivated Clemson team that is gunning for an at-large BCS bowl bid.
The Terrapins’ self-inflicted wounds certainly didn’t help. Freshman quarterback Shawn Petty, who made his collegiate debut in last weekend’s loss to Georgia Tech, lost three fumbles, two in the first quarter. The first was returned for a touchdown just 12 seconds after the Tigers first got on the board, the shortest interval between touchdowns in Clemson history. The second led to a 28-yard strike to DeAndre Hopkins from quarterback Tajh Boyd, who finished with three touchdown passes.
“That’s the focal point of our offense,” Petty said. “Don’t turn the ball over. I went out there and didn’t execute. It’s all on me.”
Said defensive lineman Joe Vellano: “We have to stop beating ourselves. 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. You’ve got to go out there and you can’t look at the scoreboard. You have to keep grinding, keep fighting. The biggest thing is, sticking together.”
Maryland gave up season highs in points and yards allowed and suffered its worst loss since a 52-13 defeat at California in 2009, but glimmers of resiliency peeked through, as they have since the Terrapins’ locker room became an infirmary and Petty switched from scout-team linebacker to first-string quarterback.
Defensive back Matt Robinson, in his first action since the West Virginia game on Sept. 22, cracked a spinning Boyd at the goal line, resulting in a second-quarter fumble recovered by Kenneth Tate. Running back Brandon Ross, starting in Brown’s stead, had a 44-yard run on the next play, by far Maryland’s longest this season. A redshirt freshman, Ross finished with a career-high 100 yards on 15 carries, nearly doubling his previous total this season.
But early turnovers and missed opportunities on third down — the Terrapins converted just 1 of 13 attempts — kept Clemson’s high-powered offense on the field, and the Tigers improved to 9-1, 6-1 ACC.
“We weren’t able to get the stops that we needed to make, and then when we did get the stops, we couldn’t make the plays,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “I thought we had a good game plan going in. We just didn’t execute it the way we needed to against the talent that they had.”
Edsall and his players preached the “next man up” mentality all season, confident that the youngsters waiting in the wings would finally shine because everyone practiced as if they were starters. Petty was fifth in line at quarterback. L.A. Goree started in Hartsfield’s place and had 10 tackles, while backup tight end Devonte Campbell hauled in his first career touchdown catch.
That mind-set has allowed the Terrapins (4-6, 2-4) to cast aside the mounting losses — the current streak now stands at four — as they soldier on through a brutal November slate. Maryland next faces No. 8 Florida State at Byrd Stadium, hosting the nation’s top-ranked defense and its second-most efficient passer in E.J. Manuel.
“We’re a really close-knit team,” Robinson said. “We all play for our brothers. Even though things happen, people go down, we just keep fighting. We’re not throwing in the towel.”
To wit: Midway through the third quarter Saturday, Clemson attempted a 55-yard field goal that fell far short. Standing in the end zone, cornerback Dexter McDougle fielded the miss and took off down the far sideline, bobbing and spinning across the field into open space by the Tigers’ bench.
But McDougle lacked a finishing burst, so in a last-ditch effort, he spun and jump-lateraled back to Anthony Nixon at the 26-yard line. McDougle’s ploy, ultimately fruitless, was a light moment in an ultimately gray day, and Maryland settled for a 39-yard Brad Craddock field goal that cut its deficit to 38-10.
The desperate dash began with promise, McDougle struggling to the bitter end, a few seconds of fight still left in these gasping Terps.