The play has become nearly unstoppable.
The high-tossed fade route, or jump ball type pass, worked with former receivers Rod Gardner and Kevin Youngblood. But current Clemson receiver Kelvin Grant has taken it to another level and made it his signature play.
For the second time this season, Grant’s ability to either make the catch or draw pass interference propelled the Tigers to a win. This time, a pass interference call set up Clemson’s game-winning score on a Reggie Merriweather 2-yard run with 23 seconds left for a 10-7 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The penalty certainly drew a lot of attention. Television replays showed that Grant and defensive back Gerrick McPhearson were each pushing while going for the ball.
At first, Grant said he wasn’t sure what happened on the play. He then changed he tune.
“I have to see the film to make an accurate (response),” he said. “I was in the heat of the moment. I was going for it and he was going for it. … I knew there was going to be a flag. I figured it was going to be on him (he said laughing). He had the inside position on me, so I had to battle for it a little more.”
When asked his thoughts about the play, Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen bit his tongue.
“You know I can’t comment on that,” he said. “What did you think about (the calls)?”
The last pass interference call was one of two that went against Maryland involving Grant on the exact same play. The first came earlier in the fourth quarter that kept a Clemson drive alive on third down.
In the first game of the season for Clemson, several questionable pass interference calls went against Wake Forest to aid in the Tigers’ miracle comeback. It was also that same play that produced the game-tying two-point conversion to send the game into overtime.
Another critical play that went the Tigers’ way against Maryland came on their first play of the fourth quarter following a fumble by Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
On the play, the loose ball was scooped up by McPhearson and an official standing right beside the play ruled it Maryland’s ball at the Clemson 22. However, another official came in and after a short huddle, overturned the ruling by saying McPhearson didn’t have complete control of the ball before he stepped out of bounds.
"We’re feeling good because we drove and got a touchdown there at the end, but the defense won the game," said Whitehurst. "It was unbelievable."
The same official, field judge Ronnie Stewart, was responsible for all three calls.
“There were four calls over there, four by that guy, and he didn’t come over to my sideline,” Friedgen said. “What bothers me on that (fumble) was the guy said we had the ball and then he changed his mind.”
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said he can sympathize with Friedgen.
“I certainly have felt like I’ve been on the opposite end of that spectrum (of getting all the close calls),” Bowden said. “I guess what happens is they balance out through the course of the season. I know I’ve came out of games feeling like he does.”
Regardless, no matter how ugly, Clemson will take a victory any day of the week.
By winning, the Tigers keep their bowl alive by improving to 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland sees its postseason dreams almost disappear by dropping to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the ACC.
“That’s a huge win,” said Merriweather, who started and was the team's leading rusher with 17 carries for 60 yards. “We’ve been talking all week about the family sticking together and playing four quarters together. And we did it today.”
Even though Whitehurst guided Clemson on an eight-play, 58-yard drive with less than three minutes to play to get the winning score, it was the defense that allowed the Tigers to get the win.
The only touchdown the Tigers yielded came on a 17-yard drive by Maryland following a blocked punt.
Even though the Terps failed to gain 100 yards of total offense in either of their last two games, it shouldn’t totally take away from what Clemson was able to do.
The Tigers held the Terps to 194 yards of total offense, 82 of which came in the second half. Of that 82, only 26 came via the pass.
“They won the game for us,” said Whitehurst, who finished the day 14-of-31 passing for 170 yards. “We’re feeling good because we drove and got a touchdown there at the end, but the defense won the game. It was unbelievable.”
For almost the entire game, the Tigers offense was nonexistent, and it’s not like they didn’t have ample opportunities to put points on the board.
Clemson was in prime position to take a lead in the third quarter following an interception by safety Jamaal Fudge that gave them the ball at the Maryland 27. But after failing to advance the ball very far, the Tigers went for it on fourth-and-one at the Terps 18. However, a Whitehurst scramble netted no yards and Clemson turned the ball over on downs.
Then following a bad punt by Maryland, the Tigers had the ball at the Terps 44. But Clemson actually wound up losing 15 yards on the possession and had to punt.
For the second straight week, the Clemson scoring offense was nowhere to be seen in the first half.
The Tigers managed just 117 yards of total offense through the first two quarters and just a measly three points. But it’s not like Maryland was any better as the score at intermission was 7-3.
Clemson’s field goal came following an 18-play drive that chewed up 73 yards and 7:21 of the second quarter. It was certainly a disappointing result following such a lengthy drive in which the Tigers converted three third downs into first downs, as well as a fourth down.
But what’s even worse is that prior to Clemson’s long drive, the Terps had a 15-play drive that lasted over seven minutes and resulted in no points as Nick Novak missed on a 38-yard field goal.
“The missed field goal proved to be a big play,” Friedgen said. “If we would have made that we would be in overtime at 10-10 right now.”
To say the least, scoring was at a premium.
Maryland’s lone touchdown was set up when David Holloway blocked a Cole Chason punt on Clemson’s first possession of the game.
The Terps recovered the ball at the Clemson 17 and six plays later, Josh Allen scored on a 1-yard run with 7:12 left in the opening quarter.
But that’s all Maryland would get.
In the locker room, there was a sense of relief and excitement by the players. They feel as though they might have stolen one.
“It’s kind of like we got the Georgia Tech game back,” Whitehurst said.