COLLEGE PARK — Injury-depleted, overmatched Maryland donned its bright red, “Pride 2.0” uniforms for its homecoming game Saturday, then tried to preserve some vestige of that same pride against No. 9 Clemson.
Aided by three takeaways, Maryland remained within a touchdown of the heavily favored Tigers until a critical fourth-quarter miscue. Clemson pulled away for a 40-27 victory in front of an announced 48,134, the largest home crowd of the season, on a sunny, chilly day at Byrd Stadium.
“We pretty much kept them in check, and then we let them dagger us in the end,” said linebacker Matt Robinson (Atholton), who recovered one fumble and forced another in his return from a rotator cuff injury.
With their third loss in four games, the Terps (5-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) remain one victory shy of becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010.
After a bye week, the Terps have four games remaining, beginning with Syracuse (3-4, 1-2 ACC) here Nov. 9.
“We're going to a bowl game. We're going to win at least one more. We're just looking at the next game,” said safety Sean Davis, adding that the team's goal is to “win out.”
Davis had 10 tackles. Maryland linebacker Cole Farrand (23 tackles) became the first Terp since Joe Vellano, in 2011, to reach at least 20 tackles.
The Terps, who had four turnovers, trailed 19-13 in the fourth quarter when running back Albert Reid (15 carries for 70 yards) fumbled after being hit by cornerback Bashaud Breeland, and Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) took over on Maryland's 22. Quarterback Tajh Boyd ran it in from 5 yards out to extend the margin to 26-13 with 13:04 left.
Roderick McDowell, who rushed for 161 yards on 30 carries, scored on a 3-yard run to push Clemson's lead to 33-13 with 7:57 left.
Star receiver Sammy Watkins, a junior, had 14 receptions for 163 yards. Maryland sought to deny Watkins the deep catch, and many of his receptions came in front of the defense.
Maryland was without seven injured players who had been set to start last week's 34-10 loss at Wake Forest. Among the missing were the quarterback, running back, top two receivers and tight end.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said the injuries present the team with an opportunity to learn about coping with adversity. Last season, the Terps lost four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries.
"I mean, this is life. This is no different than life,” Edsall said. “When you don't have control over it, how can you sit there and worry about things that you can't control? We can control our attitude about how we're going to approach adversity. I think that's the biggest thing. Some day, we'll get the breaks that we hopefully, maybe deserve.”
The Terps might have missed quarterback C.J. Brown most. His replacement, sophomore Caleb Rowe, playing without injured wideouts Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, was 19-for-45 for 282 yards and three touchdowns. He had two interceptions and was plagued by dropped passes.
Two Clemson fumbles led to six Maryland points that pulled the Terps to within 16-13 in the third quarter. The Tigers had four turnovers a week earlier in their 51-14 loss to No. 2 Florida State, their first defeat of the season.
With Maryland trailing 16-7 in the third quarter, nose tackle Darius Kilgo recovered a fumble by Watkins — forced by Robinson — and the Terps took over on Clemson's 23. It was Maryland's first takeaway since Sept. 21, a win over West Virginia. Brad Craddock followed with a 41-yard field goal to make it 16-10 with 12:07 left in the third quarter.
Robinson recovered a fumble by McDowell on Clemson's 26 on the Tigers' next series, leading to another 41-yard field goal by Craddock to pull the Terps to within 16-13.
But not scoring a touchdown after either fumble hurt Maryland. The Terps managed a combined 2 yards on their drives following those two Clemson errors.
“It's frustrating because when we had those opportunities, we didn't take advantage of them,” Rowe said. “It set us back a little bit with our momentum, but we still made plays.”
Chandler Catanzaro followed with a 24-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, on Clemson's next possession to extend the lead to 19-13 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.
With a homecoming crowd that was larger and louder than that of any other game this season, Maryland started well against the Tigers, who entered as more than a two-touchdown favorites.
Clemson led 3-0 when Rowe found Levern Jacobs over the middle for a 71-yard, first-quarter score, Maryland's longest scoring play of the season and the second week in a row the two combined on a touchdown. Until injuries elevated them to the first team, Rowe and Jacobs spent most of the season practicing together on the second team, becoming well accustomed to playing together.
The Terps kept Clemson, which had averaged 37 points in its first seven games, out of the end zone until the final seconds of the first half. Boyd's 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett put the Tigers on top, 16-7. With 304 passing yards Saturday, Boyd surpassed 10,000 in his career and moved into second place behind Philip Rivers (N.C. State) on the ACC's career list.
Maryland has a history of playing Clemson tough at home. “It's never easy up here, never has been,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We won't come up here for a while [with Maryland joining the Big Ten next season], and I don't know when the next time will be, but this has been a tough place for Clemson for a long time.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun