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Monday, September 22, 2008

Reality Check - Going to Death Valley

Don't get me wrong, I love to celebrate wins. I think it's great that we're 3-1, and that's really the best we could've hoped for in the first four weeks of our schedule. I think it's great that we just put up 51 points on Eastern Michigan. I think it's great that every College Park resident gets 12 free toppings on their pizza at Papa John's.

But just look on the schedule: Next up, Clemson. I hope that name makes you wince.

They crushed the Terps last year. They blighted them. At home, no less. It was a miserable game. I left at halftime. The final score of 30-17 didn't reflect how horrific the game was.

When thinking about going on the road against Clemson, the home pummeling of Eastern Michigan doesn't give me that much comfort. The Tigers are ranked No. 20 in the AP poll, and for good reason:

- They're scoring 34 points per game and only allow 15 points per game.
- They have the third-best red zone offense in the ACC.
- They have the second-best passing defense and fifth-best rushing defense in the conference.
- They have Cullen Harper, one of the most efficient passers in the ACC (and who kind of looks like a tool on the Clemson site), and James " I guarantee it" Davis and C.J. Spiller, two of the most explosive backs in the ACC.

I think the best way to react to the Maryland victory is to think about all the positive things we learned and apply it to how we can beat Clemson. So let's take a walk on the positive side...

- Maryland has the ACC's most efficient passer. No, it's not Chris Turner. No, it's not Josh Portis. Answer is: (dun dun dun) Danny Oquendo! All he does is throw 43-yard touchdown passes!

- Morgan Green is finally doing something. Green was spotted actually running into the end zone, not once, but twice! He finished with 40 yards on the day to go with his two scores. Now he only has to rush for 3,883 more yards and score 50 more touchdowns and he'll finally prove he was worth taking over Steve Slaton!

- Da'Rel Scott is still the ACC's leading rusher. Hilariously, he hasn't moved from the top spot after missing a week of work, and his YPG looks even better.

- Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a kicker. Obi Egekeze came out of a coma and went 3-for-3, shattering his season-high mark of zero field goals in a game.

Ok, ok, ok - I know none of those observations are helpful at all.

However, Maryland can beat Clemson. Da'Rel Scott is expected to return this week, and James Franklin seems to be getting a spark out of this offense. Between 51 points against Eastern Michigan and 35 points against Cal, there's promise here yet.

Turner did throw two interceptions this week, but also had two touchdown passes. Josh Portis once again didn't complete a pass, but he did rush for an astonishing 98 yards, which is more impressive when you consider teams know he can't throw the ball. The running game overall was still fantastic without Scott: 231 yards ain't bad at all, and we're still the second-best rushing team in the conference.

The biggest problems we face are on defense. The Terps are just giving up waaaaay too many passing yards. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley skinned us to a near-comeback, and the Eagles' Kyle McMahon still threw for over 275 yards, which is a good total by any standard.

The return of Terrell Skinner will help, but Kevin Barnes and company have to play some tight ball. Harper can toss the ball on a defense and at least keep them honest enough to set up the run. James Davis and the Clemson o-line will test Maryland's undersized front seven.

In order to be successful, the defense has to be able to penetrate the pocket. Against Cal, Maryland had five sacks. They'll need that kind of pressure again to really bring the heat to the hot-handed Harper. Should Clemson choose to run the ball straight at the defense, the Terp linemen and linebackers have to finish their tackles. If you allow James Davis and C.J. Spiller to run at your secondary, they will end you.

Really, there's little room for error in this ACC dogfight. The last two years, this has been a game for the road team, and Maryland will hope to keep that particular streak going on Saturday. Should they succeed, a national ranking might be in the works for a tough Terrapin team. Should they fail...

... well, let's not worry about it.

Photos courtesy of baltimoresun.com sports.

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