- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

CLEMSON, S.C. — Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen repeatedly professed this season how much he believed in his team, even after an ugly loss at West Virginia and a sluggish September.

His conviction paid off with three tight victories to finish October, yet even Friedgen couldn’t have expected the Terrapins to deliver a victory in quite the fashion they did yesterday.

Maryland yielded only four field goals — all after taming the Tigers in the red zone — in a 13-12 victory at Memorial Stadium, a performance that seemed impossible earlier this season when the Terps (7-2, 4-1 ACC) received repeated gashings from inferior opponents.

“I thought our defense played phenomenal,” Friedgen said. “If you’d told me that we would hold this team to 12 points, I’d say you’re crazy.”

And after Clemson’s first play from scrimmage — a 60-yard pass from Will Proctor to an open Chansi Stuckey that would have been a touchdown had it not been for Josh Wilson’s tackle — it seemed Friedgen would be right. However, the Terps stopped the Tigers (7-3, 4-3) at the Maryland 10, prompting Jad Dean to trot out for a field goal.

The sequence repeated itself throughout the afternoon, with a fine Maryland play preceding a Dean appearance. Linebacker Erin Henderson brought down Stuckey on a third-down play in the second quarter, and Wilson stuffed C.J. Spiller on a swing pass to open the fourth quarter.

Maryland’s final stand came after its biggest miscue. After pinning the Tigers within inches of the goal line, tight end Thomas Hunter slipped through coverage on a third down for a 71-yard pickup. Clemson inched inside the Terps 10, but Jeremy Navarre and Wesley Jefferson made stops to force another field goal with 2:25 left.

“It was a huge part of the game,” Wilson said. “If we don’t keep them to field goals and they score touchdowns, it would have been a blowout and a different game.”

There was little reason to believe Maryland, which possessed the 10th-ranked rush defense in the conference, would contain Clemson tailbacks James Davis and Spiller. The duo dubbed “Thunder and Lightning” entered averaging nearly 173 yards rushing and had run over nearly everyone this season.

Instead, the pair was conspicuously quiet, collecting 131 yards while failing to score a touchdown for the first time all season.

“We came here knowing they had a really good offensive line and two great running backs,” Navarre said. “We came in and heard everybody talk and said ‘Let’s just make a statement today.’ ”

The Terps certainly did, eschewing the faulty tackling and undisciplined play that became an unpleasant trademark earlier in the season. In their place were solid hits and improved coverage.

There were some missteps. The Tigers collected 173 yards on just three long plays, but they were otherwise bottled up (an average of 3.4 yards on 65 other plays) in what could prove a breakout game for Maryland’s much-maligned defense.

“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t gelled together, so people were trying to make plays that weren’t there and we ended up giving up other plays,” said Henderson, who was credited with 18 tackles. “Now, we know everyone is going to be in the gaps they’re supposed to be in and taking care of the business that needs to be taken care of.”

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