Those who have followed the Clemson football program in recent memory know there has always seemed to be a slip up, a game the Tigers should have come out victorious in, but ultimately fail to do so. A blemish on the record, that in hindsight has prevented Clemson from reaching a title game or the illustrious 10 win season. What makes these games unique are when these tend to land on the Tigers' schedule, where the games themselves are played, and in most cases, involve opponents that clearly are less talented on paper. It's the dreaded trap game, and before Clemson can return to supremacy in the ACC, it must find a way to get out of this game with a win.
In 2006, an early showdown in Chestnut Hill failed to grasp the Tigers' full attention as the Clemson defense surrendered an astounding 479 yards to the Boston College offense en route to a botched overtime extra point and a loss to the Eagles. On paper, Clemson should not have lost this game. It appeared the Tigers were looking ahead to Bowden Bowl, and a huge Atlantic Division showdown in Tallahassee the following week against a potential top ten Florida State team.
In 2010, Clemson saw itself in an all too familiar situation. The week prior to once again traveling to Boston College, Clemson was triumphant in a big grudge match at home against Georgia Tech in what appeared to spark a turn in the Tigers' season. Despite playing one of their best games of the season against the Yellow Jackets, Dabo Swinney's team played one of the most uninspired football games in recent memory, culminating with a eventual loss and what would be a continued downward spiral of the Tigers' season. Kyle Parker's lackluster performance which included two interceptions and a ground game that managed a mind-numbing 86 yards on the ground was a crushing blow. Boston College had just lost five straight games and was one of the worst teams in the ACC. Clemson somehow managed to help the Eagles save their season en route to killing their own in a game that shouldn't have been close. The loss was unacceptable, trap game or not.
As we dissect the 2011 schedule looking for potential roadblocks that could derail another potentially successful season, one game stands out from all the rest: a mid-October game on the road in College Park against the Maryland Terrapins. Perhaps it's young gunslinger Danny O'Brien who makes the game stand out, who last year was one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the ACC, and did so as a freshman. Or maybe it's Maryland flashy new uniforms, recently modeled by 300+ pound lineman that has caught my attention, a sight more visually disturbing than Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day. Whatever it is, Dabo better have his troops prepared, or this game may very well end up in similar fashion to the 2006 and 2010 trap games.
College Park, with it's battery-throwing-sailor-cussing fans, has always seemed to be a house of horrors for the Tigers. In 2003, Clemson was thumped by the Terps a week after the Tigers did their own thumping on the road against the Yellow Jackets in a 39-3 win in Atlanta. In 2009, coming off an emotional loss to eventual national powerhouse TCU, the Tigers again failed to show up against Maryland, losing a heartbreaking game characterized by late kicking blunders and an offense that couldn't muster a single point in the fourth quarter. I know, I was there amid the 50,000+ Maryland fans that taunted me I as made my way out of Byrd Stadium.
This year, Clemson faces a similar test, against a Maryland team that is breaking in a new coaching staff after their mountain of a man head coach was forced into early retirement. There is no doubt that the new staff will attempt to pick up where the Fridge left off, and continue to try to be a thorn in Clemson's side. The game is on the road, and comes just two weeks after Clemson finishes a brutal stretch of games that includes two potentially top ten opponents in Florida State and Virginia Tech and a rematch with defending National Champion Auburn.
Coming into this game, Clemson will likely be sitting anywhere from 5-1 to 3-3, and if it has any hope of being successful in the second half of the season, it must get through the Terps and finally eliminate the trap game that has plagued the Tigers for far too long. Will Clemson finally conquer this game, beat Maryland, and prevent another liquor induced rage by the Clemson fanbase? At this point I would venture a guess and say the answer is no, for history says otherwise. But boy, will I be happy if Dabo's squad finally proves me wrong.
As for this weekend? There is little doubt Troy will look to play it's own role of trap game as they have done so in years past. In 2004, Troy marched into Tiger Stadium under the lights and almost took down LSU before a late touchdown provided for a dramatic comeback against the Trojans. Last year, Troy nearly did the same thing to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, losing to an impressive Cowboy team they were beating by a touchdown at halftime.