COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Going into last week, Clemson had outscored opponents 56-0 on turnovers, and of no coincidence, they were 6-0.
Last week, the Tigers turned it over four times, and at each interval, they gave up points off them — 24 total, and a resounding defeat was in store.
Offense breakdown: Tigers miss opportunities
The second half in Byrd Stadium Saturday was well on its way to consecutive contests fumbled away.
The Clemson ‘D’ had a rewrite ready.
Dealt back-to-back offensive fumbles inside the Tiger 25, they surrendered only two yards on eight plays and two field goals, as Maryland crept back to a three-point, third quarter deficit.
Clemson cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who served a first-half suspension (targeting versus FSU), then decided to turn the tables with a big hit and forced fumble to hand a struggling offense the ball at the Terps’ 31. Four plays later, Clemson seized a two-score lead.
“He had to sit inside like a criminal or something (for the first half),” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, “but we got him ready to go and he was huge. He’s probably played as well as anybody on our team consistently. That was huge. It was that shot of energy that you need especially on the road.”
On its heels again after a fourth-quarter Tajh Boyd interception, the Clemson defense delivered its best stand yet, forcing 11 lost yards and a turnover on downs to effectively salt the game way.
All-totaled, they gave up six points and minus-nine yards on their side of the field after turnovers.
“We were plus-one in the turnover margin. Hats off to our defense,” Swinney said. “When you put the ball down twice (around) your own 20, and they only come away with six points — our defense responded.”
In Maryland’s first eight drives of the second half, the Terps were held to 0.7 yards play (21 yards in 30 plays). Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe had 23 second-half incompletions.
“When you’ve got a defense that plays like we play, plays with a mean streak,” Clemson senior running back Rod McDowell said, “and not make mistakes and not put us in a bad field. The way they played tonight they bailed us out big time.”
HOT ROD FINALLY HITS PAYDIRT, TWICE
For 31 quarters, Rod McDowell led Clemson in rushing, but had yet to reach the end zone this season — and it wasn’t without some chances either. Adding to the anxiety, he was the first Clemson running back to score last season.
On a day committed to feeding him the rock, “Hot Rod” finally punched in not one (3-yard run), but two (45-yard run) touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the Tigers’ win.
“Hot Rod ran with great purpose today,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He ran relentless. He read his keys. He’s been solid all year, but the biggest thing is he had 30 carries. He got a lot of work tonight and came through when we needed him.”
McDowell finished with career-highs in both carries and yards (161), averaging a solid 5.4 yards per attempt. He set a Clemson record on his first score, as the 18th different Tiger to register a touchdown this season.
By halftime, Clemson junior receiver Sammy Watkins had equaled his season-highs in catches (10) and yards (127) — but he had more his mind, gunning for former teammate, Daniel product and current Houston Texan DeAndre Hopkins’ school marks.
And by the fourth quarter, his 14th catch did just that, setting a new Clemson single-game receptions record.
“We were actually talking about that (the other day),” Watkins said. “I told him I was going to beat one of his records this game. Luckily it had to be that one.”
With 167 receiving yards, he added his best outing in 12 games (since Duke 2012, 202 yards).
“They just line him up and throw him the ball,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “They move him around. He is an outstanding talent. We knew that coming in. He is very dynamic. We tried to do the best that we could to contain him, but sometimes great players have good days. He had a good day today.”
END OF AN ERA
And so closes the longest continuous conference rivalry for both schools, with Clemson finishing with a 34-26-2 edge.
Clemson won the last four before the Terps’ Big Ten exit by 20.5 points per game.