Already down a touchdown in the heart of a deafening Death Valley, Maryland needed a response after Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd guided the No. 11 Tigers into the end zone on their second series of the game.
But instead what Maryland produced was something it simply could not afford. Linebacker-turned-quarterback Shawn Petty, making his second collegiate start, committed a costly fumble rushing left on first-and-10. The ball was recovered in the scrum by the Tigers and returned 16 yards to the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
The first-quarter turnover set the tone Saturday for an injury-plagued Maryland team, which suffered its fourth consecutive loss in a 45-10 blowout, dropping the Terps to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"It's tough to beat a top-10 team with three turnovers," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said during his weekly Sunday conference call. "If you want to win you can't keep turning the ball over."
The Terps fumbled again in the first quarter, again as a result of Petty taking a hit — this time a sack — in Clemson territory. The Tigers drove down the field and scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass to pad their lead at 21-0. Maryland's final fumble came in the third quarter, again by Petty, as he tried to scramble on third down.
After watching film, Edsall pointed out that Petty wasn't holding on to the ball properly when trying to scramble or preparing to take a hit, something they had been working on extensively in the practice during the past few weeks.
"He just wasn't doing that," said Edsall, harping on the fact that he must improve. "But it's not just Shawn. It's everybody on the team."
Edsall said the team would be working on ball security in practices this week as they have every week. The Terps have a date with No. 10 Florida State on Saturday in the final home game of the season. The Seminoles boast the No. 1 total defense in the ACC and are tied for fourth in the conference in sacks with 23. Maryland ranks last in sacks against with 33.
But in the blowout Saturday, Maryland and Edsall were able to find a few positives, like the emergence of freshman running back Brandon Ross, who filled in for the injured Wes Brown and rushed for 100 yards on 6.2 yards per carry against a top-five defense in the ACC.
Arguably the biggest play of the game for Maryland was a 74-yard return by cornerback Dexter McDougle off a missed 55-yard field goal attempt. The Terps managed a field goal by Brad Craddock on the ensuing drive.
Edsall thought the Tigers' field-goal attempt was an act of disguise by Clemson. The Maryland coach thought Clemson would instead do a pooch kick. But Clemson's long gamble paid off for the Terps.
"I told the team, those guys aren't used to tackling, those offensive guys and lineman," Edsall said.
But as McDougle made his way down the field, he became visibly exhausted and pitched the ball to a teammate for a minimal gain, something Edsall saw as an unnecessary risk considering the turnovers already committed by the team.
"[The return] was a smart play," Edsall said. But the pitch would have been a "hindrance" if Maryland fumbled.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun