CLEMSON — There’s no truth that Maryland’s injury list has been sponsored by the American Red Cross, but it certainly could be. The Terrapins listed a staggering 26 players on their injury report this week, leaving second-year coach Randy Edsall to wonder what might have been despite a 4-5 record.
Maryland hasn’t given up on a bowl bid this season, but with three games left – two against Florida State and Clemson – that looks like an increasingly difficult task. Saturday, Edsall’s bunch will play without its leading passer, rusher, receiver, kick returner and tackler, a big reason why the 8-1 Tigers are 31-point favorites over the Terps.
Maryland features one of the best defenses Clemson will play this season, but its lack of remaining offensive talent will likely make for a long day in Death Valley.
The Terrapins feature a stout defense which Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said could be the best his team has faced all season. Maryland allows 301.6 yards per game (11th-best nationally) and 110.1 yards rushing per game (18th nationally). Senior defensive tackle Joe Vellano is one of the ACC’s top defensive linemen, with 53 tackles, six sacks and 14 tackles for loss; Swinney joked this week that “he’s been there for 10 years.” The Terps’ defensive line will challenge an improving Clemson offensive line; Maryland has 25 sacks as a team, tied with N.C. State for the ACC’s best. There are questions behind it; Maryland will be playing without linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, its leading tackler (with 78), who tore his ACL in last week’s 33-13 loss at Georgia Tech. He’ll be replaced by Lorne Goree, who has nine tackles in five games.
At this point, Edsall must be wondering who he angered to deserve the unreal, cursed string of bad injury luck his team has endured. The Terrapins are on their fifth quarterback of the season – freshman Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker who ran an option-based offense against the Yellow Jackets. All four of his predecessors are out for the season, three of them with ACL tears. To make matters worse, Maryland announced Thursday that freshman receiver Stefon Diggs and freshman tailback Wes Brown will miss the game with ankle injuries. Diggs is one of the ACC’s most dynamic talents; he has 43 receptions for 721 yards, and his six receiving scores account for half of Maryland’s total. Brown is the Terps’ leading rusher, with 90 carries for 382 yards and two scores. Diggs is also the team’s top kick and punt return, averaging 27 yards per kick return with a 100-yard score.
Fellow freshman Brandon Ross is expected to handle backfield and kick return duties, with Dexter McDougle stepping in at punt return.
Clemson and Swinney have talked incessantly about playing to their own standard and not playing down to an opponent, a theory which will be tested today. The Terrapins are as injury-riddled as any team in America, with 26 players listed on their injury report. Clemson has a far superior offense, and its defense has improved steadily over the last month. The Tigers have plenty to play for themselves – staying in the ACC race and keeping their hopes alive for an at-large BCS bid. A large homecoming crowd should provide the necessary energy, and Clemson will handle the business in front of it today.
Prediction: Clemson 42, Maryland 7