CLEMSON - One message was relayed loud and clear to the Clemson offense this week.
"All 11 guys have to get on the same page," Tigers junior receiver Sammy Watkins said. "It’s just one mistake at a time and not all 11 clicking. We just have to get back to doing all of the little things right."
A dramatic change in pace from their record-shattering regularity, Florida State's defense strolled into Death Valley and forced four turnorvers, holding Clemson without a play of 20 or more yards - and only one score against their first-team defense.
"I still think we are an elite team. We just played a bad game," said Watkins, who had eight catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in the losing effort. "They capitalized and played a complete game. I think if it was vice versa and they fumbled a few times – we would’ve done the same thing."
Swinney counting on Boyd comeback
Where have the issues come? Just about every play lately.
"There’s always one or two guys taking a bad step or missing a block," Clemson right guard Tyler Shatley said. "When you’ve got one missing link in the chain, it’s broken. Got to get everybody on the same page and everybody doing their job on the play."
While senior Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd has shouldered criticism this week, his o-line has taken its share of the blame, which has allowed four sacks twice in the last three games.
"We have to get five guys to play consistently every play," sophomore center Ryan Norton said. "And that’s my job. I’m taking a big responsibility to do that."
After a close look at the stats this week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn't particularly worried, citing a "literally mirror image" look to the offense on paper this year to last year.
"No question we can play a lot better," Swinney said. "We've got five games left. It's a long season. We had a bad day. I told our guys, when Tiger (Woods) shoots 75 and Phil (Mickelson) shoots 62, does that mean Tiger's awful? No, Tiger comes back the next time and shoots 60-something. That's called had a bad day, and competition.
"You try to fix it. Well, my technique was a little wrong or my stance wasn't good. Whatever. That's what great competitors do. That's the way these guys look at it."
The No. 9 Tigers (6-1, 4-1 ACC) are certainly ready to earn back some respect.
"We really have to come out focused and prepared and get that win," Watkins said. "Hopefully come out with a game of 500-600 yards of offense and show the country that we can still come off a big loss and still perform and hopefully (move up) in the BCS and get everyone’s attention in the national rankings."
Going into Saturday's 3:30 kickoff at Byrd Stadium, Maryland (5-2, 1-2) isn't coming in on a roll either.
After after a 4-0 start that included a West Virginia shutout (37-0), the Terps were outscored 97-10 on the road at Florida State (63-0) and Wake Forest (34-10), while having to rally for a 27-26 home win over struggling Virginia.
They enter the matchup down seven starters from last week's loss.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall hadn't named a quarterback starter between C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe all week, and for good reason, as on Thursday Brown (trunk) was then named among the Terps' wounded.
Brown led the ACC in total offense after five weeks, but after suffering a concussion at Florida State, the senior hadn't played a full game since Sept. 21, accounting for 187 yards and two turnovers.
Rowe, a Blue Ridge product, hasn't shown to be the same dual-threat, completing passes at a 51.8 rate for 177 yards a game.
Complicating matters offensively is Maryland's leading-duo in receptions and yards, Deon Long and Stefon Diggs, suffered season-ending injuries last week. The Terrapins are left with only one receiver with double-digit catches (WR Lerven Jacobs, 13 for 245 and a touchdown) and a number of youngsters.
"It's time for them to take advantage of their opportunity," Edsall said, "and step up and make plays for us and do all the things that we would expect. I think they're up to the challenge."
Also missing in action Saturday will be Terps running back Brandon Ross (458 yards/4 TDs) and tight end Dave Stinebaugh (11 catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns).
Clemson has the secondary in flux to counter the Terrapins this weekend.
Junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland will sit out the first half after violating the NCAA's new targeting-hit punishment. In the second half against Florida State, Breeland hit helmet-on-helmet with Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, which called for an ejection.
The Allendale native leads the Tigers in passes defended (10), with three picks and seven pass breakups, and is fifth on the team in tackles (34).
Out for a second consecutive week (and also likely next weekend) is junior cornerback Garry Peters (foot). That leaves a skeleton crew of two Tigers who have played more than five snaps per game on the corners for the first half.
"I really think that it’s going to be a good challenge and all of our players will rise to the occasion," junior safety Robert Smith said, "and step up in the role they didn’t have earlier in the season. A lot of people are seeing our depth now."
Saturday brings an end of an era: the last ACC matchup between Clemson and Maryland, as they head to the Big Ten conference after this season.
Stretching back to 1952, it's the longest continuous conference rivalry for both teams, and has been one of the more competitive as well.
Clemson holds a 33-26-2 all-time edge. The Terps were 6-5 from 2000-10 under Ralph Friedgen, but the last three have gone the Tigers' way by 23 points a game on average.
"Clemson-Maryland is one of those staples," Swinney said. "This is my 11th year at Clemson and I've been a part of a bunch of those games - been up there and had some crazy games, that's for sure.
"Hopefully we can play our best game and send them on to the Big Ten in good ACC fashion."