Defense Breakdown: Maryland edition
CLEMSON — While Clemson’s pyrotechnic-friendly offense gets most of the headlines, the Tigers’ defense has steadily improved over the last month.
Saturday, they took another big step against a beat-up Maryland team. The Terrapins managed just 10 points and 180 yards of total offense. It was the Tigers’ lowest point total of the season, and lowest yardage total since holding Coastal Carolina to 179 on Halloween 2009.
Maryland played without its top four quarterbacks; freshman quarterback Shawn Petty, a converted linebacker, completed six of 12 passes for 41 yards with two lost fumbles. The Terps were also without their top receiver (freshman Stefon Diggs) and tailback (Wes Brown), who missed the game with ankle injuries.
“No letup,” said sophomore defensive end Corey Crawford. “I feel sorry for what they got going on, but as coach (Dabo) Swinney said, that’s their problem.”
Crawford got the Tigers’ first fumble return score in over a year, scooping a Petty fumble and rolling 16 yards for a touchdown.
“I just saw it was in open space, picked I up and ran with it,” he said. “That’s what they tell us, if the ball is in open space and it’s around, by all means scoop it and score.”
The Tigers held Maryland to 1-of-13 third down conversions, a huge piece of their success, Swinney said.
“Last year on third and 1, you’d hear everyone in the stands hold their breath, ‘Oh, God, it’s third and one,’” Swinney said. “Heck, us down on the sidelines were holding our breath, ‘Oh, God, it’s third and one.’ But you look at how our team has improved. They’re like, fourth and 8, let’s go for it, they don’t even hesitate. We trust our players and they’ve earned that.”
Watkins leaves early: Sammy Watkins’ up-and-down sophomore season played to form Saturday. Watkins caught four passes for 60 yards, but left the game early after re-aggravating an ankle bruise.
Watkins missed the final three offensive drives of the first half, standing alone on the sidelines, helmet in hand. He didn’t return to the field for the second half, but emerged in the fourth quarter wearing sweats. He was still Clemson’s leading receiver.
“It’s nothing major,” Watkins said. “Sometime last week I had a bruise on my ankle. I re-injured it, but it’s not that bad.”
Watkins set ACC freshman records for receptions, receiving yardage and receiving touchdowns last fall, but missed the first two games while serving a suspension connected to a May drug arrest. He also missed Clemson’s win at Boston College with an abdominal illness related to poor kidney function and dehydration. He rebounded to set the program’s all-time single-game receiving yardage record with 202 yards at Wake Forest.
Hopkins moves up: Junior DeAndre Hopkins moved up Clemson’s all-time receiving yardage list with four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. He moved into second place – past his late uncle, Terry Smith – and is now 23 yards from passing Aaron Kelly for first place. Kelly had 2,733 yards from 2005-08.
Anthony starts: This week, defensive coordinator Brent Venables insisted middle linebackers Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony were “options 1A and 1B” at the position, even though Shuey had started the last three weeks. In that span, Shuey had 37 tackles in 156 snaps, while Anthony had 13 in 69 snaps. However, Anthony was on the field for the first snap Saturday, with Shuey relieving him for the second snap. He led the Tigers in tackles, with seven; Shuey was second with six.
Clemson honors Hill: Clemson honored former Maryland receiver Darryl Hill Saturday in a pregame ceremony. Hill was the first African-American player to play in Memorial Stadium, making 10 catches on Nov. 16, 1963. He was also the ACC’s first African-American player.