Since his return last week at Virginia Tech, the offense of the Tigers has been stagnant, to say the least. Obviously the drop has nothing to do with Stuckey and Clemson is far better off with him than without him, but it’s also painfully obvious something is wrong.
Four times the 19th-ranked Tigers marched their way into the red zone and each time they had to settle for a field goal, which cost them dearly as Maryland pulled off the huge upset when placekicker Dan Ennis booted a 31-yard field goal on the final play of the game in a 13-12 upset win.
Maryland, like the Hokies a week earlier, all but shut down Clemson’s running game. The Tigers managed just one big run, which was a 42-yarder by James Davis. The other 40 rushes netted just 101 yards.
And this came against the 100th rushing defense in the nation.
“I thought we’d run the ball better based on how people have run the ball on them this year,” center Dustin Fry said. “I guess the book’s out on us on how to stop our offense. I’m sure we’re going to see that the rest of the year.”
Clemson (7-3, 4-3 ACC), which for all practical purposes is out of the Atlantic Division title hunt, has now gone seven consecutive quarters without scoring a touchdown. Moreover, the Tigers have just one touchdown in their last 127 minutes of play.
On paper, the final numbers look good as the Tigers rolled up 394 yards of total offense. The problem is, more than half that, 201 yards to be exact, came on four plays, which means the other 64 plays produced just 193 yards. That comes to three yards per play.
“We are struggling on offense right now and we have to find a way to generate some touchdowns offensively,” Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said.
That was never more evident than on the final drive for the Tigers, which trailed 10-9 at that point.
The first three plays of that drive were as wild as could be. On the first play, quarterback Will Proctor fumbled and tailback C.J. Spiller recovered it for what was ruled a safety. But after review, the Tigers were awarded the ball inside the 1.
Second down netted zero yards, but on third-and-19, Proctor hit a wide open Thomas Hunter streaking down the middle for what ended up as a 71 yard pass and spotted the ball at the Terrapins 28 with 6:25 left to play.
Clemson eventually got it to the Terrapins 4, when Davis took a handoff and marched into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. However, the Tigers were called for illegal formation, which negated the score and pushed them back to the 9.
Clemson had only 10 men on the field, thus was short one player on the line of scrimmage. Freshman tight end Michael Palmer was the player missing.
“Yeah, that wasn’t good,” Proctor said. “I wasn’t real happy. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to live and learn, I guess.”
Two runs later and placekicker Jad Dean booted a 22-yard field goal to give Clemson a 12-10 lead with 2:25 remaining.
“We usually score every time we’re in the red zone,” Fry said. “That’s our money spot. Having to settle for field goals felt like last year. It felt like we were the same offense we were last year.”
The game was in the hands of the defense, which had performed well all day.
On Maryland’s ensuing drive, the biggest play came on fourth-and-1, when quarterback Sam Hollenbach ran a quarterback keeper for a gain of five to keep the drive alive.
The very next play, Hollenbach connected with receiver Isiah Williams for a gain of 13 to put the ball at the Clemson 27. Two plays after that, another pass, this time to tight end Joey Haynos, moved it to the 12.
All that was left was for Ennis to connect on a 31-yard field goal attempt on the game’s final play, which he did.
“It was just another day at the office,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. “It was an unbelievable game by our players. They just won’t give in. Our defense was phenomenal. … Our character came through and I’m just really touched by these kids.”
As for Clemson, it’s looking more like a trip to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, a return to the Champs Sports Bowl or a trek to Nashville for the Music City Bowl.
“There are still some things out there for this team to accomplish,” Bowden said. “You have to cross a couple of things off that you wanted to accomplish and now you have to go back and maximize what you can.”