CLEMSON, S.C. Defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre, a man who normally acts rather than speaks, had quite a lot to say midway through Maryland’s game at No. 20 Clemson on Saturday.
Not a bit of it was good, not after the Tigers rumbled for 195 yards rushing in the first half.
“We were frustrated as a defense,” Navarre said. “We were being embarrassed, quite frankly.”
James Davis and C.J. Spiller were the anticipated source of the consternation, but the way they created their havoc was especially harsh. Rather than bounce to the perimeter, they ran straight at Maryland - until the Terps retooled and limited Clemson to 112 total yards in the second half of a 20-17 victory.
Davis and Spiller combined for only 31 yards after the break, a testament both to Maryland’s ability to regroup and Clemson’s stunning decision to give its two star backs a combined 10 carries in the second half.
“One of our defenses wasn’t working,” defensive end Dean Muhtadi said. “They were just abusing it. We made some adjustments based on what was successful for us in the first half, and we just shut it down. We got amped. We started believing more. When you take someone’s best shot in the mouth, there’s nothing more they can give you.”
Clemson’s early success was generated in part because of cutbacks. Both tailbacks often would start left, then burst toward the stronger right side of the offensive line in the Tigers’ opening possessions.
Eventually, Clemson mixed it up, with both Davis and Spiller making long touchdown runs. Both of those scoring plays sent the tailbacks up the middle, where they scampered unscathed to the end zone.
“First half, I was shocked we weren’t stopping them,” defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. “I know they’re explosive, I know they’re fast. I was surprised we didn’t have as much success in the first half.”
The complete turnaround in the second half was equally stunning. Cosh reverted to a more basic defense and better disguised the Terps’ coverage schemes. Maryland eliminated the cutback lanes, decreasing Clemson’s chances for a big play.
Yet the slippery Spiller still posed a threat, and he streaked down the sideline on third-and-long to set up a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter. Maryland’s history in recent years suggested it would surrender the conversion.
Instead, linebacker Alex Wujciak stopped quarterback Cullen Harper on a sneak, and the Tigers never held possession again.
“We should have had Spiller on the screen play when he went for 17,” Wujciak said. “If we wanted to win, we had to stop them. We gave them one of them, but we weren’t going to give them another one.”
And the Terps didn’t, ensuring Maryland’s mercurial defense somehow experienced both its finest and most miserable moments of the season on the same afternoon.
“It’s unreal,” quarterback Chris Turner said. “They just got it done. I don’t know how they did it, I don’t what adjustments they made. I kind of felt once there was eight or nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, we had the game and the defense was just in lock down.”