There is a little bit of a different feeling in the air this time of year than we are used to around these parts. Dabo is more laid back in his press conferences, and for good reason I suppose. Sitting undefeated in mid-October is not a situation that many Clemson fans and coaches for that matter have been use to in the last two decades. It's a great head start in an Atlantic Division and ACC that is ours for the taking, but still, it's just a head start. Clemson is going to be defined by what they do in the second half of the season. Will they collapse down the stretch and resemble Clemson teams of years past, or will this year be different?
This is a big, big game versus Maryland in terms of our team goals. They are a division opponent. They're right in the thick of it. They've got one loss. If we want to stay in the driver's seat, we have to take care of business, otherwise we put our fate in other people's hands and we don't want to do that. Maryland is a very capable team. Don't let their record fool you. They lost close at Georgia Tech who has been lighting everybody up. And they also lost close to the #13 team in the country, West Virginia.
As an observer, it's hard to figure out what to make of Maryland's loss last weekend to Georgia Tech. Maryland played the Yellow Jackets tough, holding Paul Johnson's squad to its lowest scoring output of the season. I would be more inclined to chalk Maryland's defensive performance up to the fact that the Terrapins had two weeks to prepare for the option attack, something that has always seems to bode well for Georgia Tech opponents. This was still a squad that ranked 91st in total defense prior to heading to Atlanta. I think this performance has a lot to do with Maryland being only touchdown underdogs to the Tigers this weekend, along with the early uncertainty of Tajh Boyd, which appears at this point has been cleared up.
This year Maryland brought in basically an entire new coaching staff, including former LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Crowton's offense, with Danny O'Brien at the helm, was gangbusters out of the gate, lighting up a depleted Miami defense in Game 1 for almost 500 yards of offense. Since that game, the Terrapin attack has sputtered, struggling to put up any sort of consistency on offense against Temple and Georgia Tech. Still, it always seems like the Terps rise to the occasion against the Tigers. I wouldn't be surprised if that were especially the case this year with Clemson sitting undefeated.
Offensively they are a young team. They're starting two seniors this week and three on the defensive side of the ball. Their o-line is big, one of them we recruited very hard here. Their tight end is a very good all-around player. I think their receivers are their strength. They seem to have everybody back. They can really run. As a group I think they're dangerous as far as big play potential. They throw a ton of screens. We'll have to play well at corner. Their running back we've played and he is a tough, hard-nosed physical runner.
On the offensive side of the ball, Maryland lost Andrew Gonnella for the season in a gruesome injury against the Yellow Jackets on Saturday. From all indications it looks like Gonnella, the leader of the offensive line, will recover from the injury. With Gonnella on the shelf, Maryland turns to a sophomore replacement and will certainly miss the leadership up front. As for quarterback, Maryland went into the season with the hopes that Danny O'Brien would pick up where he left up after an impressive freshman campaign. That doesn't seem to be the case thus far, as O'Brien has thrown more picks than touchdowns and was benched in Atlanta after another mediocre start.
Quarterback, they're not sure themselves. They made a change last week. I know this. I know #5 is a good football player. The young man, #16, is one game in the second-leading rusher on the team. He can run the football. If he's going to be the guy, we'll have to do a good job of defending him from a zone read standpoint.
The Tigers defense will likely be the best defense Maryland will have faced so far, a side of the ball that is very quietly making a name for itself. While the Chad Morris attack has received the big headlines, Kevin Steele's defense is starting to play quality football. After week four, this side ranked 66th in scoring defense. After week five, they ranked 32nd in scoring defense. After the Boston College game, Kevin Steele's squad is 24th in scoring defense. As a Clemson fan you have to be happy with the progress, especially with what was needed to be replaced going into the 2011 season.
Focus this week turns to whether Clemson can continue to play consistent football, make tackles, and establish a running game. These are the same things we preach every week. If we are successful in those areas, there are very few teams on our schedule that should have the ability to beat us.
People are talking good about us now. And that's great. That what we want. We want to be able to build our program, but in order to do that, in order to be in the elite, you have to consistently perform. You have to perform well. You have to take pride in how you prepare. If you do that and you have talent, you'll have a chance to get your program where you want it to be.
Maryland is another big road test for this young team. For a squad that plays four of its final six games on the road, it's going to have to continue to play physical and fundamental football if its going to add to the win column. Not many teams in the country can match the offensive weapons that this team has at its disposal. If we can put points on the board, win the turnover battle, and take some pressure off an improving defense, Clemson should win in College Park. This weekend could very well set the tone for how things will play out in the second half of the season.