COLLEGE PARK, MD - OCTOBER 15: Quarterback C.J. Brown #16 of the Maryland Terrapins dives into the endzone for a touchdown in front of the Clemson Tigers defense during the first half at Byrd Stadium on October 15, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
All week long, we wondered who Randy Edsall would start at quarterback against Clemson on Saturday. In the end, the explosive C.J. Brown got the nod over the more experienced Danny O'Brien. And after nearly leading Maryland to an upset of the 8th-ranked, undefeated Tigers, I don't think he'll be relinquishing the job anytime soon. Sadly, the rest of the effort left much to be desired from Terp fans, especially in the latter stages of the game.
Maryland held a lead as large as 18 in the second half, but a defense that allowed 39 second-half points - and the sensational play of Sammy Watkins, who had an incredible 345 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns - let them down in the end. An 89-yard touchdown kickoff return from Watkins and a 44-yard rushing touchdown from Andre Ellington sealed the deal for Clemson, ensuring the comeback and solidifying the 56-45 margin.
And so, for the third time this season, Maryland let a chance to grab a win against an undefeated, nationally-ranked opponent slip through their fingers.
The game wasn't without promise, in parts. Brown, especially, showed some flashes, rushing for 162 yards and throwing for another 177, though his passing numbers were a little skewed by drops. He threw three touchdowns and rushed for another, while only throwing one interception, though it proved to be a game-changer: it was that pick that gave the Tigers life, setting them up with great field position and directly leading to a touchdown. After that, everything was downhill for Maryland. Still, Brown was good enough for his offense to score 38 points (7 came from a defensive TD), and it's tough to complain about that.
Likewise, the early play was an encouraging sign. Sure, Maryland got a few gifts from Watkins and Tajh Boyd, but were beating an undefeated, top-10 opponent 35-17 in the third quarter. That doesn't happen by luck.
Ultimately, though, Maryland's lack of defensive talent and depth, their special teams errors, and their inconsistency at wide receiver were on full display here, especially in the second half. Maryland had no one who could cover Sammy Watkins in their secondary; nor did they have anyone who could stop him on their special teams, as his returns resulted in two Clemson TDs; and in the long run, they couldn't count on their receivers to catch what Brown could get on target, robbing the Terrapins of at least one TD.
Clemson's first drive, which started at the four thanks to a botched kick return, covered nearly the length of the field, until Maryland stopped them at the 2 and forced a field goal. Maryland's next drive stalled, but Sammy Watkins muffed the ensuing punt, setting Maryland up inside the ten. Davin Meggett punched it in from 9 yards out to give Maryland a 7-3 lead.
Tajh Boyd, who struggled early on, was intercepted by Cameron Chism on the Tigers' next drive, and the senior CB returned it for a 46-yard pick six. Both teams scored two touchdowns in the first half after that, two on the ground - from C.J. Brown and Andre Ellington - and two through the air - Brown to Meggett and Boyd to DeAndre Hopkins - to give Maryland a 28-17 lead at half. Ronnie Tyler dropped a likely touchdown pass along the way, one of the few balls Brown put on target down the field.
Out the second-half gate, Brown led a 78-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 22-yard Matt Furstenburg touchdown reception. And that's when everything went to hell. Brown threw an interception on Maryland's next drive, which Clemson capitalized on with a 13-yard reception by Watkins to cut the margin to two scores. A Maryland three-and-out followed, with Clemson scoring another TD - and converting the two-point conversion - to cut the score to 3 heading into the fourth.
To the surprise of almost no one, Maryland's drive stalled, while Clemson drove down the field with surgical precision and took the lead with a 12-yard Jaron Brown touchdown reception. After facing multiple third downs on their answering drive, Maryland regained the lead with another Furstenburg touchdown on a third-and-ten. But, of course, the euphoria could only last so long: Watkins had a sensational 89-yard touchdown return on the kickoff to give Clemson a 49-44 lead. Another stalled Terps possession, and Ellington sealed the deal with the 44-yard touchdown scamper to finish things off.
People will hate on Todd Bradford for this, and they have a little bit of a point, but not nearly as much as they think they do. Think about where Maryland is right now: they started five freshmen today, including all three linebackers. On a critical third-and-2 in the fourth quarter, Alvin Thomas - a transfer from Albright College - was in. I'm sure Thomas is a good player, but transfers from Albright College usually aren't "Play in a critical situation" material. Watkins is an insane talent, and he made plays even when the scheme accounted for him. Bradford wasn't flawless, but given what he was working with and what he was up against, I'm not going to freak out, either. I'll expand on this later.
On the other side of the ball, Brown is the starting man for better or for worse now - he was too good today against too good a foe to pull a switcharoo. There's no question heading into next week. He was one of the bright spots of today. Really, Maryland isn't lacking potential bright spots. The Terrapins seem to have so much potential, but it's juxtaposed with some pretty serious issues, mostly talent and depth related. It's painful to see.
I'm pissed off and a little depressed, to be honest: it's devastating to consistently watch a team almost get a win, playing above its head in the process, only to be thwarted by superior talent in the end. Maryland is a matter of plays away from being 5-1 right now, but instead a few fatal flaws have left them far, far behind.
That said, the rational part of my brain can't find a way to be upset about this, not truly. Clemson is a good - nay, great - team. How much shame can there be in losing to an undefeated, top-10 team by 11 points, and playing them closer than that? I swear, there's a base here. I just don't know how long it'll be until we see it.
More coming tomorrow, in the stock report. Until then, vent away.