CLEMSON, S.C. | Deep within Memorial Stadium, the Maryland football team again Saturday came into contact with its ingrained duality, a trait capable of manifesting itself from week to week, day to day and apparently half to half.
It also encountered the crux of Clemson’s program over the last decade: an ability to fritter away games in a befuddling manner.
Put it all together - along with a few timely plays and an unanticipated defensive turnaround - and the Terrapins slipped out of Death Valley with a 20-17 over the stunned No. 20 Tigers.
“It was more or less they grinded it out with their will,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “We kept making mistakes but Clemson did, too. They kept getting penalties and helped us. It was really who is going to make the least amount of mistakes in the second half. It was a weird game.”
That’s putting it mildly. How else to explain how Maryland yielded 195 rushing yards in the first half before regrouping to give up 26 yards in the second half? Or how a team seemingly incapable of a long drive this season could burn off more than five minutes to ice a win? And even that wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey could be held without a catch and still almost single-handedly reverse the game?
It all happened, with Da’Rel Scott’s 1-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter lifting Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC) to its only lead of the day. In the process, the Terps established themselves as a contender in the ACC’s wide-open Atlantic Division.
Pockets of bleachers were visible at the end as the remnants of the crowd of 81,500 departed after the crushing loss for the Tigers (3-2, 1-1), who entered the season as favorites to win their first conference title since 1991. Instead, a ranked Clemson team was dealt its seventh home loss to an unranked team since 2000.
“We self-imploded today,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said in perhaps the afternoon’s greatest understatement.
Maryland was the beneficiary, coming back to win despite a double-digit deficit for the first time since erasing a 20-0 hole in a 2006 victory at Virginia. It was a difficult chore, but one made easier by the Tigers’ inability to convert strong halves from James Davis (100 in the first to 126 yards for the day) and C.J. Spiller (93 to 98 yards).
The Terps faced their own problems en route to trailing 17-6, twice making it inside the 10 before Obi Egekeze kicked a field goal.
“Clemson has such a potent offense, we can’t not score points,” wide receiver Danny Oquendo said. “We can’t go to the 30- or 40-yard line and only have field goals. We had to think about it for a second and come out in the second half strong.”
While Maryland wasn’t precise, it was effective in spurts. A crucial element was Heyward-Bey’s 76-yard reverse early in the third quarter to set up Torrey Smith’s 6-yard touchdown reception two plays later.
It was the only time Heyward-Bey, who was held without a catch against Clemson for the second straight year, touched the ball. Yet it provided just enough of a spark for the Terps to believe they could be at least 4-1 for the first time since 2001.
Thus the alternate personality kicked in even as penalties piled up and the clock wound down. Clemson wasn’t any better and suddenly found its once-unstoppable rushing attack dissolve against the retooled Terps.
“We made some adjustments,” said linebacker Alex Wujciak, who had a team-high 16 tackles. “Obviously, we had to because they were running all over us.”