Two days removed from one of the worst losses in recent memory and it's still hard to wrap my head around what transpired Saturday night. This loss had a similar feel to the Orange Bowl debacle, but at least with this game we don't have 8 months to sit and stew about it before the next game. I think this was simply an example of one team being flat out better in all facets of the game. The last two games against the Noles have shown that they are simply a better program than us right now. Clemson was virtually dominated in Tallahassee last year too in a game where the Tigers had to resort to trickeration and a game that wasn't as close as the box score would indicate (Clemson scored a late meaningless TD with 2 minutes left to lose by 12 instead of 19).
After all, this was the same Clemson team that had been on an epic roll dating back to the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season when it beat LSU, spent all offseason preparing for a national title run and beat a full-strength Georgia in the opener. This was an offense led by senior quarterback in Tajh Boyd, who will end up as the conference's second-leading passer of all-time, and an array of playmakers who had always shown up in big moments. And this was an environment with more than 82,400 full-throated Clemson fans, desperate to see their program take the next major step toward championship contention.
But none of that mattered to Florida State or redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who was once again spectacular with 444 passing yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-34 completions. As Winston said, "We weren't playing noise, we were playing Clemson."
Big players step up in big games, and I don't think there's any question that Winston is a better QB right now than Boyd. The freshman overwhelmingly outplayed Tajh in his out house, who didn't look comfortable all night. He was overthrowing and underthrowing receivers, panicking in the pocket, and simply didn't display the leadership qualities that we had previously seen from him in big games against LSU/UGA. The blame certainly doesn't rest on just Tajh though. Besides Sammy, we don't have another receiver that has consistently stepped up and that showed on Saturday. Perhaps Peake would've been that guy, and looking back it appears his loss hurts more than we first thought. Offensive playcalling was pretty abysmal as well. Plainly put, Chad Morris panicked when we went down big in that game. Instead of running our offense and continuing to try and establish a running game A gap to A gap, he essentially abandoned it and was content with throwing the ball around the rest of the game. Three and outs and turnovers followed and the defense was put in terrible positions all night.
The bad: No, this was not "pulling a Clemson." The Tigers simply got beat, badly, by a better team. And you can very well make the argument that they could and would beat every other ACC team outside of Florida State. But this was their moment, complete with a second visit from "College GameDay" and another prime-time showcase for a program with national title aspirations. Instead, this game was over shortly after it started, with Tajh Boyd not performing up to expectations and the highly touted, improved defense proving to be no match for the Seminoles' skill players. This has to be, in some ways, disheartening, considering this was Clemson's shot at home with a senior quarterback against a Seminoles team that had lost 11 NFL draft picks and will only get better moving forward. Clemson, currently ranked ninth, can still have a very strong season, so long as it doesn't reel from Saturday's rude awakening.
At this point it's time to move forward. Clemson still has five games left on it's schedule, it's still ranked in the top 10, and if the Tigers can somehow manage to win out an at large BCS bowl birth is quite possible. This weekend Clemson travels to College Park to take on a beat up and struggling Maryland team. Clemson opened as 13 point favorites yesterday and that number has slowly climbed to -14. I'm not sure I've seen a team with worse luck on the injury front over the last two seasons than I've witnessed with the Terps. This past weekend against Wake Forest, Maryland lost their top two players in Diggs and Long to season ending leg injuries. If that's not enough Brandon Ross, the Terps #1 running back was injured as well and his status for Saturday remains up in the air. Maryland's quarterback, CJ Brown was benched against the Deacons and Caleb Rowe took over and he was mediocre at best. Earlier in the season the Terps lost both their starting cornerbacks due to injury and are also dealing with injuries in the linebacking corps as well.
For Maryland, this could have a serious impact on their quest for a bowl berth. They are without their top two cornerbacks, their top pass rushers, their top two offensive weapons, and starting running back Brandon Ross also suffered an injury in the game. Despite the 5-1 start, Maryland could have trouble getting to a postseason game.
Prior to that Florida State game, Maryland was a hard to team to get a read on. They swept their first four games, one of which was a curb stombing of a West Virginia team that despite being a shell of their 2012 squad did beat a ranked Oklahoma State team at home. The last three games haven't been as kind to the Terps. Maryland had similar results against Florida State as us and the loss to a very mediocre Wake Forest team has set this team back. For a team that had a ton of answers early in the season, the Terps are left with huge question marks across the board going into week 9. Who replaces the 1000 yards of receiving production the Terps have had from Diggs/Long in the first half of the season? Maryland's top two producers at running back this season have been Ross and CJ Brown. If Ross is out and Brown is still benched where does the increase in production come from here on out? Also, Maryland's defense had been rather salty (outside of the FSU game), but struggled badly on Saturday giving up 34 points to the 103rd ranked offense in the country in Wake Forest.
Maryland came into Wake Forest as a touchdown favorite to secure bowl eligibility, despite an injury-riddled defense and a quarterback recovering from a concussion. The Terps got absolutely manhandled by the Demon Deacons, as injuries continued to pile up and Maryland suffered a blowout loss, 34-10. Maryland is now 0-13 under Randy Edsall in games in the second half of the season.
This is an interesting spot for Clemson. Sometimes it's hard to gauge how teams will respond after a huge demoralizing beatdown at home who then have to turn around and go play on the road against an inferior opponent. Had Diggs/Long/Ross not been injured against Wake Forest, this would be an extremely dangerous spot for the Tigers in a game they very well could lose. I think Clemson will likely come out sluggish and hungover in the first half against the Terps, adjust at halftime (something we didn't see against the Noles), and beat Maryland by 2+ scores. The Terps are simply too decimated across the board to make up for the massive loss in production from Diggs/Long and that early season confidence has been thrown out the window now that their team leader is on the shelf for the remainder of 2013.