The 8th worst loss of the decade was against one of the worst opponents we faced in the decade, the 2-10 (finish) Maryland Terrapins. A team that had barely beaten I-AA James Madison 38-35 two weeks beforehand managed to catch us totally offguard and give Dabo Swinney the only humiliating defeat of his young coaching career.
Coming into this game we were 2-2 with an offense that had not really looked so hot against Boston College and TCU. Both of those teams had and have perennially fielded good defenses, so it was understandable that we would not look great with a freshman QB. However, Maryland was breaking in a brand new defensive scheme with an offense that was downright terrible with a Chia Pet at quarterback.
But Fat Friedgen beat us again.
The Tigers looked rough even starting off this contest. The first drive resulted in a punt after consecutive incompletions to Ford and Taylor but the D answered with a quick 3 & out. The offense went back and another 3 & out was nullified by a muffed punt by MD and we got the ball back at our 41 yd line. We dinked and dunked our way down the field and reached the MD 24 for a Jackson FG to make it 3-0 in the 1st quarter. Another 3 & out forced by the D got us the ball back quickly, but a huge punt put us back on our 21 yd line. Kyle Parker hit his throws this time and we marched downfield to score the TD on a 17 yd scamper by Jacoby Ford. 10-0 Tigers.
But in the 2nd quarter, the Defense took a few drives off. As was the case all season, our defense made critical mistakes on 3rd downs in the 2nd quarter. In fact the 2nd quarter resulted in the most points for our opponents last year. On Maryland's final drive of the 1st, they converted a 3rd & 7 and another to start the 2nd with a 27 yd pass to Torrey Smith on a blown coverage. We held them to a FG to make it 10-3.
Willy Korn entered the game now at QB. A dumb call by Swinney after Parker had just led the team down the field to score a TD on the previous drive. Korn's drive netted 24 yds in 8 plays, capped by a 51 yd FG by Jackson to make it 13-3. It was one of Korn's last drives all season.
Then again the D took a drive off. MD converted on 3rd & 5 with an 18 yd pass to Dave Meggett and a 29 yd pass to Smith to make it 13-10. Both on blown coverages. False starts and dropped passes doomed the next Parker drive and MD got the ball again at their 19 and marched right down the field. Horrendous tackling and coverage allowed 3 quick throws to get them to our 20 yd line within 1:00. This pathetic offense moved the ball 81 yds in 9 plays, in less than 2:00 to score the go-ahead TD 17-13.
Clemson's D was stifling the rest of the way, particularly our interior DL. Kevin Steele is one of the few coaches we've had here in this decade who has shown an ability to make great 2nd half adjustments. The only way Maryland scored in the 2nd half was on a punt that was returned to the CU 1 yd line. 24-13. Unfortunately our offensive staff collectively couldn't make adjustments and we went 3 & out twice in the 3rd quarter. The only highlight was C.J. Spiller's 92 yd TD return to get us back in the game just after MD scored, a two-point conversion made it 24-21.
While our defense was smothering the Chia Pet, the offense continued to have issues. One drive moved the ball 49 yards but three others in the 4th went 3 & out even after Maryland attempted to hand us the football game on a silver platter.
Maryland gave us a gift with a turnover on downs at their own 29, and yet we could not move the ball one positive yard. Jackson missed a 47 yd FG that would've tied the game.
Dave Meggett fumbled immediately thereafter on their 31, and we could not move the ball one positive yard. Jackson missed another 48 yd FG that would've tied it with under 3:00 to play.
The D came up again and forced them to go 3 & out, and Clemson got the ball back after the punt at our 30. Parker hit 3 passes to Michael Palmer and another to Jacoby to get the ball to their 28, before a botched protection call that did not match the play call resulted in a Parker sack and fumble to end it.
This was the most inept offensive performance of the season. Clemson headed into the Bye week 2-3 and the pressure cooker was up on Billy Napier. Most folks wanted to fire him then and there. The truth is that Billy was not the only problem that day.
Up until this game there were too many fingers in the pie on offense. The offensive staff of a football team will talk during a game about playcalls, but it is the OC that should make any final calls. This was not the case until this game. It was done more by-committee until the team's blow-up on the field that day, and Swinney was the one changing Napier's calls on the sideline when he signaled them in. Though he denied in his presser, I know it to be true. On the botched protection at the end of the game, the playcall called for one protection but the protection that was communicated in was the wrong one. Lambert blew it by not seeing the blitzer and miscounting rushers, but the protection he was given was the wrong one.
Napier stormed off after the game and didnt speak to reporters because his calls were overruled on the sideline. he took the heat for the calls but he wasn't the one to blame, whether it was denied to be true or not. Before the season I had mentioned the fact that Napier prefers a more traditional I-formation offense suited to our skills and experience, similar to what he played in at Furman, and Swinney wants a spread system with more 3-4 WR sets and shotgun formations. In the game drive summaries I wrote for the weekly game film review, (first half and second half) you can see which one was called more often.
The Affect on the Season that followed
Unlike other big losses in the decade, we didn't collapse after this one. We actually played much better offensively. After the Bye week, Clemson's offense was much much different. They cut down the number of plays and focused on execution. They decided to stop throwing to WRs who could not catch and threw to Spiller, Ford and Palmer the rest of the way. They went to more Play-action passing and I-formation running. All of it worked well and we put up big points from here until the SC game.
But the difference in the two philosophies makes this something to watch for in the future.
Whether the team would've done as well (in subsequent weeks) with a W in the column on this game as opposed to the L we may never know. Sometimes a L on your record wakes you up in a way that a last-second win does not, no matter how inept they looked going into the Bye week. The news that too many roosters were in the henhouse on offense may not have come out, and Dabo may never have felt his way of doing things were wrong, so we may have moved the F-up game down a week or two in the schedule or just not let Napier run the offense to put up the additional points we put up down the stretch.
Yet this game prevented us from the 10-win season we so desperately desired, as well as making us an object of derision among other fans.