As part of Testudo Times' 2013 football coverage, staffer Alex Kirshner is corresponding with opposing teams' beat writers and SB Nation bloggers for each week on the Terrapins' schedule. This week, we check in with Eric Dowling from Shakin the Southland, SB Nation’s Clemson Tigers site. Be sure to check in there for more from the opposition’s perspective.
TT: Welcome to the club, first off. Jameis Winston has torched almost every team he's faced this season, the Terps and now Tigers included. Why was Clemson so badly blown out at home last weekend?
STS: There are a number of factors that went into FSU's dismantling of Clemson last weekend. First, FSU is really good and they know it. They got off the bus and had the look of a team that knew it was going to win. Clemson has done a tremendous job recruiting over the past 4 seasons, but FSU's recruiting has been on another level. They field a squad of primarily 4 and 5 star players. That talent disparity really shows up along the lines and in the secondary. Clemson has a talented 4 four, but FSU's OL is also very talented and they were able to give Winston the time he needed to find open receivers. On the flip side, Clemson's OL has struggled all year and that trend continued against one of the most talented defensive lines in the country. With Clemson abandoning the run after falling in an early hole, FSU's DL pinned their ears back and made life miserable for Tajh Boyd.
Secondly, Clemson didn't help themselves by fumbling on the 1st play of the game, or fumbling again a couple series later. Those two early first quarter turnovers led to 14 points for FSU and put Clemson in a 17-0 hole. When Clemson was able to get the game back to 17-7, they had two straight possessions with the ball near midfield, but the offense sputtered both times, handing the ball back to Winston and the potent Seminole offense. Those possessions were key to keeping the game within reach and keeping the crowd in it, and the offense simply didn't get the job done. That's becoming a recurring theme for this team that is very troubling considering the amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball.
TT: No matter last Saturday's result, Clemson is still a top 10-ranked team. Does a loss like that cause Dabo Swinney to drastically change things, or do you attribute it to a tremendous opponent and just hope to move on?
STS: Obviously a ton of a credit has to go to FSU for playing such a great game, but Dabo, Chad Morris, and Brent Venables also need to make some changes to right this ship. It's not like FSU was the first poor game Clemson has played this year. Clemson had their fair share of struggles against NC State and Boston College as well. The first thing I think they need to look at is the offensive line. We're halfway through the season and this group has proven to be a weak link on this team. Chad Morris admitted this week that the only guy that played well last week was LT Brandon Thomas. I'd like to see an open competition at some of the other positions along the line. Clemson has to find a way to get 5 competent linemen on the field to get this offense clicking again.
The other big change you may see is freshman WR Mike Williams taking snaps away from Martavis Bryant. Williams is slowly gaining the trust of the coaches and Bryant is slowly losing it. Bryant was expected to have a breakout year, and while he is explosive, he hasn't proven to be the reliable target that many expected.
TT: Now that the Tigers have lost a game and are unlikely to win the ACC, what are fans' expectations for how they'll finish the season? Still to make the BCS?
STS: The expectation is to win out the rest of the season, culminating with a much needed win in Columbia, SC. As disappointing as the loss to FSU was, a 5th straight loss to South Carolina would put a huge black eye on this season. Four straight losses to an opponent that we used to dominate was already unacceptable, but with the expectations we had for this season, that game must result in a victory.
TT: What is Clemson's biggest weakness that Maryland could exploit?
STS: There are two areas that Maryland could exploit. Offensively, between Clemson's OL struggles and our usual difficulties with 3-4 defenses, I think Maryland's DL and LB could cause havoc in Clemson's backfield. Right Tackle has been a particular area of weakness in both the running game and picking up pass rushers coming off the edge. If Maryland has a good left OLB, he may be in for a big day.
Defensively, if Maryland's OL can keep Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley off the QB, Clemson's secondary is suspect. Clemson's best CB Bashaud Breeland is suspended for the 1st half and 4th CB Garry Peters has a broken foot. That leaves Clemson with 2 corners that have real game experience this year, Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson. They will be forced to break in a couple of young guys this week, so I expect a few mistakes to be made. If Maryland still had Diggs and Long healthy, the matchup of Maryland's WRs versus Clemson's DBs could've been a huge mismatch.
TT: With Maryland's starting cornerbacks out and pass-rushing group depleted by injury, too, I could see Sammy Watkins eclipsing 200 yards this week fairly easily. But after Watkins (and, of course, Tajh Boyd), who are Clemson's biggest offensive threats?
STS: As I mentioned earlier, Martavis Bryant has big play potential, but also needs to expand his route tree beyond a 9 route. At 6'5 with blazing speed, he's a matchup nightmare. But he's struggled with drops and inconsistent play. If he continues to struggle, look for Mike Williams opposite of Sammy Watkins. He does not look like a freshman receiver. Listed at 6'3 and 205 lbs, he looks every bit as big as his listing and has drawn comparisons to DeAndre Hopkins due to his size and tremendous ball skills.
TT: Conversely, Maryland's biggest playmakers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, are both out for the season. Is there any way the Terps' offense can possibly put up points against Clemson's defense?
Clemson's defense has had slip ups along the way against South Carolina State, NC State, and Syracuse, so I fully expect an injury decimated Maryland team to also hit a couple of big plays against this defense. Clemson's defense has been slightly better than average on standard downs, but have been exceptional on passing downs. I think the key for Maryland is to take advantage of Clemson's depleted secondary and look to throw the ball on first down. If you fall behind the sticks and get into obvious passing situations, Clemson's terrific pass rush will make life very difficult for whoever ends up under center.
TT: To close, what's your score prediction?
STS: I think this game will be closer than you anticipate. One, I don't think Clemson is as good as we were led to believe. And two, I'm not sure how they are going to react to having their national championship hopes crushed by FSU.
Clemson - 34
Maryland - 17