COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — When Clemson coach Dabo Swinney looks at Maryland, he doesn’t see a sub-.500 team embroiled in a quarterback controversy and struggling to find an identity under a first-year coach.
Swinney sees danger.
The No. 8 Tigers have every reason to be fearless heading into Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference game against the Terrapins. Off to its best start in 11 years, Clemson (6-0, 3-0) whisked through a stretch of three straight games against Top 25 teams before blowing away Boston College past week.
“I’m proud of them,” Swinney said the Tigers. “They’re getting better.”
Maryland (2-3, 1-1) has dropped three of its last four in coach Randy Edsall’s first season at the school. The lone win during that stretch came against FCS foe Towson, and the Terps led that game by only 7-3 at halftime.
Although Maryland played well last week against then-No. 13 Georgia Tech, the Terps emerged from the game without a bona fide starter at quarterback. Danny O’Brien struggled in a third consecutive start and was replaced by sophomore C.J. Brown, who ran for a 77-yard touchdown and produced 13 second-half points in a 21-16 defeat.
Edsall won’t announce his starter until just before kickoff, but between them they’ve totaled seven interceptions and only five touchdown passes.
So what’s Swinney worried about?
“You have to guard against distractions,” he said. “It’s easy to lose your focus and get complacent. You start reading your press clippings and listen to everyone tell you how good you are. Teams lose their focus and their humility and then they lose.”
Noting that the Terrapins beat Miami and hung tight with West Virginia and Georgia Tech, Swinney said, “They’re very capable. We’re going to have to play very well.”
Swinney’s concern has spread to offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who wasn’t satisfied even after watching the Tigers ring up 500 yards in offense against Boston College.
“All you have to do is turn the film on to show we still have room for improvement,” said Morris, who has no intention of allowing the Tigers to lose focus while preparing to face the 10th-ranked defense in the 12-team ACC.
“The one thing I’ll definitely do is bust their balloon if I have any indication of that,” he said.
Edsall hesitated naming his starting quarterback in part because he wanted to keep Swinney and the Tigers guessing. But Swinney expects the Terrapins to try to run, in part because their quarterbacks completed only five passes last week.
Controlling the ball will also help keep it away from Clemson.
Maryland limited Georgia Tech to a season-low 386 yards last behind a 20-tackle performance by lineman Joe Vellano. But success against the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option does not necessarily mean the Terps can handle the Tigers’ more versatile attack.
“They run more of a prostyle up front,” Vellano said. “They’re going to hit you and pound the ball at you. There’s no doubt they can put up points. They have a lot of athletes over there and they have a big offensive line. It’s more what we’re used to every week; we kind of have to go back to our mentality and the way we play, so I think that’s a positive.”
The Terps will have a tough time chasing down quarterback Tajh Boyd, who hurt his hip on the first series of the third quarter last week but is expected to start Saturday. Boyd leads the ACC in total offense, averaging 310.3 yards per game, and has tossed 15 touchdown passes compared to only two interceptions.
“The thing that impresses me the most is that he can throw the ball,” Maryland defensive tackle A.J. Francis said. “There are a lot of guys that run as well as he does, that can’t throw it as well as he does, and he can really throw the ball. He reminds me of like a bigger version of (former North Carolina State quarterback) Russell Wilson in that aspect. I played against Russell for two years, and he was definitely tough to handle. So I know we have to be ready to play this week with a guy of that capability.”
It’s homecoming for the Terrapins, which is a bit of a surprise considering that most schools usually schedule lesser opponents for the occasion. But Vellano likes the idea of playing unbeaten Clemson under the lights.
“There are going to be a lot of people at this game” he said, “and nothing would be better than pulling off an upset.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)