CLEMSON -- In 2011, Maryland was up 18 points on two occasions against Clemson and the Tigers considered themselves lucky to escape College Park with a victory.
Was that really just a year ago?
Saturday, Clemson completely outclassed Maryland and there was never really much of a doubt.
The difference between last year and this year might be more about the Terrapins' devastating bout with injuries than a quantum leap by the Tigers.
We won't know until Nov. 24 (and perhaps beyond) just how far Clemson has come. Sounds strange to say that about a team that improved to 9-1 with this 45-10 victory, its sixth in a row.
The ACC schedule is lined with teams that aren't very good, and Maryland certainly qualifies for the dubious category. But Clemson's only concern is continuing to take care of business, and business continued to be good with the Tigers once again jumping on the opposition early to extinguish any miniscule doubt that existed to begin with.
Back in late September, in the aftermath of Clemson's loss at Florida State, how many folks out there predicted the Tigers to win their next six games by an average of 25.1 points?
Over the summer, how many people thought the Tigers would be going for their 10th win when N.C. State came to town in the 11th game? The Tigers' securing of a nine-win season is special enough; they've done it twice in the last three years after doing it three times over the previous 15 years.
Clemson also set the school record for consecutive home victories with this win, pushing to 12 in a row and passing the record set between 1989-91.
It's fair for detached observers to look at Clemson and say the Tigers are merely fattening up on weak competition. But as it waits for its chance to prove its bona fides, Clemson doesn't have to apologize for accomplishing rare feats. It can celebrate them and feel good about it.
"I'd like to take the rest of them like this," said offensive coordinator Chad Morris, "but we all know it's not going to be this way."
The only source of real stress in this one was the right leg of one Sammy Watkins. He limped off the field after an opening kickoff return and continued to be bothered by what he termed a lower leg bruise initially suffered in the Duke game. He remained on the sideline late in the second quarter, and he didn't play at all in the second half. Morris didn't seem concerned after the game, saying Watkins could've gone back in had he been needed.
The Tigers held Maryland to 180 yards and 10 first downs, and the Terrapins (4-6, 2-4 ACC) mustered just 41 passing yards on a 6-of-12 clip. Clemson ran 76 plays for 436 yards, 301 through the air and 135 on the ground, while totaling 27 first downs.
Clemson was up three scores early in spankings of Wake Forest and Duke, and the same theme unfolded in this one with the Tigers staking themselves to a 28-0 lead with just over a minute gone in the second quarter.
With Maryland's injury problems on offense, a four-touchdown advantage was more than enough. The Terps came in on their fifth quarterback of the season, a converted linebacker who can't throw. They came in without their best player, freshman receiver Stefon Diggs (sprained ankle). And they came in without top running back Wes Brown (sprained ankle).
That, plus Clemson's explosive offense, explains why Clemson came in as heavy of a favorite (32 points) as its been in an ACC game in 12 years. And the Tigers would point out that the margin of victory would've been greater if not for three first-half turnovers. Maryland did have three turnovers of its own, one a 16-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by end Corey Crawford.
At halftime, Clemson had committed seven turnovers over its previous six quarters and put up 91 points. Four turnovers didn't hurt much in a 56-20 lashing of Duke, and Saturday the Tigers were up 35-7 at the half after three of them.
Clemson's third possession was derailed when Tajh Boyd played a zone-read fake a little too long, leading to a fumble the Terps recovered at the Maryland 43.
Adam Humphries muffed a punt return early in the second quarter, giving Maryland the ball at Clemson's 18. The Terps capitalized with a touchdown to cut it to 28-7.
Boyd committed another turnover as he tried to extend to the goal line and was hit hard, forcing a fumble.
"Bad exchange," Boyd said. "We had opportunities to put more points up, and I didn't capitalize right there."
Said Morris: "You can't be spinning down there in the red zone. You've got to get down."
Clemson's offensive line had issues blocking Maryland's 3-4 defensive front for much of the first half, providing few holes for Ellington and Rod McDowell. But the Tigers closed the first half with an impressive drive that showed what they can do when they're determined to do it.
Ellington, who was hampered during the week with an injured hamstring, kept the drive going early by running for 4 tough yards on third-and-1 from Clemson's 44. Then Boyd found Humphries for an 11-yard gain on third-and-10, followed by a 24-yard toss to Brandon Ford.
Then Ellington and the line took over. The senior tailback burst for 13 yards off the right side, then powered 6 yards right up the middle for a touchdown. Morris and line coach Robbie Caldwell had been frustrated to this point, but after the nine-play, 66-yard scoring drive they congratulated the blockers with high-fives and words of encouragement.
It's hard to do anything special or noteworthy when a depleted team like Maryland is on the other side of the field. But the Tigers' opportunity is going to come soon enough, and until then beating the tar out of inferior opposition isn't a particularly unappealing trend.
"There is no doubt we came ready to play," said coach Dabo Swinney. "We were ready from the opening snap. We are a very focused program and we have had great leadership all season."
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