CLEMSON, S.C. | Saturday already provided a daunting task for Maryland. It was short-handed at nearly every skill position on offense. It was facing No. 10 Clemson.
The last thing the Terrapins needed any part of was three turnovers.
They came, of course, in the form of three Shawn Petty fumbles. And so whatever longshot opportunity at an upset Maryland possessed dissolved early in a 45-10 loss before an announced crowd of 76,000 at Memorial Stadium.
“My turnovers just killed us and gave our defense bad field position,” Petty said. “I kept our defense on the field too much. Just don’t turn the ball over. We can move the ball if we don’t turn the ball over.”
It was the freshman linebacker-turned-quarterback’s second start, and there remains only so much Maryland (4-6, 2-4 ACC) can reasonably expect from him. Petty, playing only because of four season-ending injuries to Terp quarterbacks, threw for 41 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers (9-1, 6-1).
He didn’t have wideout Stefon Diggs, easily the Terps’ most dynamic threat. And he couldn’t rely on freshman tailback Wes Brown, Maryland’s top rusher. Both sat out with ankle injuries, though freshman Brandon Ross mitigated Brown’s loss with his first 100-yard day of the season.
Realistically, there’s only so much Petty can do. Yet as limited as Maryland is —- and despite several players’ insistence to stick to a next-man-up philosophy, injuries have severely hamstrung the Terps —- it can at least hope Petty avoids blunders.
It didn’t happen Saturday, as Clemson scored two of its first three touchdowns off Petty’s giveaways. He sometimes carried the ball too low. He didn’t always put two hands on the ball.
The impact was sobering; the Tigers built a 28-0 lead in a little more than 16 minutes.
“That’s what’s most frustrating,” coach Randy Edsall said. “Shawn has been put into a difficult situation and no question about that. But the one thing we’ve tried to stress to him is just don’t turn the ball over. Secure the ball. He’s got some bad habits that we haven’t been able to get him out of in the time we worked with him as a quarterback.”
Maryland hoped it could stay reasonably close to the Tigers’ potent offense by limiting its own mistakes and trying to at least force Clemson into poor field position. Perhaps, if things went well, the Terps could force some turnovers.
The latter occurred, with Clemson committing three giveaways. Yet on the first play from scrimmage after the Tigers seized a 7-0 lead, Petty dropped the ball while running toward the sideline. Clemson’s Corey Crawford recovered it and rumbled 16 yards for a score.
“It just slipped out of my hands,” Petty said. “It was a bad play and their defense did a good job of taking it and taking advantage of it.”
It was hardly all on Petty, who recovered from some early miscues to connect with tight end Devonte Campbell for a 17-yard touchdown and extinguish any chance of a shutout. Maryland was picked apart for steady gains, with quarterback Tajh Boyd taking turns with his myriad options to roll up 436 total yards.
The only thing stopping the Tigers for much of the day was themselves. After punting on their opening drive, Clemson scored on seven of its next 11 possessions with only three fumbles and a long missed field goal not producing points.
“We have to stop beating ourselves,” defensive end Joe Vellano said. “That’s the biggest thing. Turnovers, big plays on defense and stuff like that —- it’s hard to beat teams like this, without question.”
Indeed, Maryland was not a likely upset candidate even without its miscues. Clemson, which has scored at least 37 points in nine consecutive games, was going to generate offense in some way or another.
For the Terps, there wasn’t nearly as much reason to rue the loss as there was to regret how quickly they allowed things to slip away from them.
“It was just a complete team loss,” Ross said.
—- Patrick Stevens