CLEMSON — It has become routine. Humdrum. Executed with machine-like precision.
Each week, a focused Clemson team faces an opponent that isn’t prepared for its talented, fast-paced offense and an ever-improving defense.
The Tigers score lots of points. They win. Thousands of orange-clad fans file out happy. Rinse, wash, repeat.
That familiar scene unfolded again here Saturday against a beat-up Maryland team. No.10 Clemson jumped out early, showed no mercy and rolled to a 45-10 whipping of the Terrapins before 76,000 fans.
It was Clemson’s 12th consecutive home victory, setting a program record. Clemson improved to 9-1, 6-1 in ACC play; the Terrapins fell to 4-6, 2-4. The Tigers have won six consecutive games by at least 14 points, and three by at least 29.
“The thing we challenge our guys about all the time – you look around college football boxes, see the games and say, ‘Dadgum, how’d that happen?’” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Guys lose focus and don’t come ready to play. Our guys have done a tremendous job every single week coming ready to play. Today from the opening snap, they left no doubt.”
It has been three years and 334 days since Swinney became the program’s full-time head coach. His process of program-building is bearing real fruit, he said.
“There’ve been a lot of good Clemson teams over the past 117 years, but never one that’s won 12 in a row at home,” he said. “Guys have bought in. We wanted to change Clemson from the inside out and it starts with winning at home. To set the record is special. Players deserve all the credit. Once they put the work in to buy into it, they’ve produced some great goals.”
Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 18 of 26 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, an efficient day despite two lost fumbles. He agreed with Swinney’s sentiment.
“I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” he said. “There’s been a foundation laid the last two seasons. Since coach Swinney got here it’s been steadily, continuously getting better. “
Maryland entered the game with the nation’s No.11 total defense; Clemson’s 45 points were a season high for a Terps’ opponent. The Tigers outgained Maryland 436-180 and had 27 first downs to the Terps’ 10, despite holding the ball for only 28:03.
“There’s always more room for improvement,” Boyd said. “I know we keep saying that every week, but it drives us to go out there and score every drive. There’s not too many people that really stop us. We just stop ourselves sometimes.”
A steadily improving defense put up its best yardage and point totals of the season. In fact, Maryland’s 180 yards of offense were the lowest by a Clemson foe since Oct. 31, 2009 vs. Coastal Carolina.
“The schemes that coach Venables and our staff are putting together for us to make plays, just putting up the scheme and we’re going out and executing,” said sophomore defensive end Corey Crawford. “Every week, (our confidence) has gone up. We know we can play with any team we line up against. We have to believe in ourselves. It took us for a while to get that going, but since we got it going we’ve been pushing ever since.”
The Terrapins played with their fifth quarterback of the season – four have suffered season-ending injuries, including three ACL tears. The Terps’ leading rusher and receiver – Wes Brown and Stefon Diggs – each missed the game with ankle injuries.
Clemson wasted no time jumping all over the wounded Terrapins. Following an exchange of punts, the Tigers put together an efficient seven-play, 52-yard drive, capped by Adam Humphries’ first career touchdown, a diving 13-yard grab in the back of the end zone with 7:19 left in the first quarter.
Maryland quarterback Shawn Petty –a converted linebacker – made a critical error on the next snap. As he dropped back to pass, the ball slipped out of his hands, and Crawford scooped it up, going 16 yards for a touchdown.
12 seconds elapsed between scores, the shortest span in Clemson history.
Following another Maryland three-and-out, the Tigers put the hammer down. Boyd converted a pair of third downs, and lofted a nice strike to Hopkins in the left corner of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown and 21-0 lead with 2:42 left in the first quarter.
Clemson’s defense forced another three-and-out, and the rout was on: a screen pass to Sammy Watkins, Boyd 10-yard scramble and slide and a 22-yard touchdown to Brandon Ford down the left sideline, giving the Tigers a 28-0 lead with 13:56 left in the half.
Tiger mistakes were Maryland’s best offense: Humphries muffed a punt at his own 18, and Petty cashed in, throwing a 17-yard touchdown to Devonte Campbell, putting the Terps on the board with 11:08 left in the half.
Boyd was also stripped at the Maryland 2; the Tigers had three lost fumbles in the half.
It didn’t matter. Boyd guided another impressive drive to end the half, covering 66 yards in nine plays, with tailback Andre Ellington rumbling six yards for a touchdown and 35-7 lead with 1:30 left in the half.
Ho-hum. Just another happy day in Death Valley.
“I told our team it’s time to start separating from the pack,” Swinney said. “Put the hammer down. This is when great teams start separating. Last year we weren’t a top-10 team. We did good things, but we proved that in November. Now we have an opportunity to be a top-10 team.”