COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland ranks last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in just about every major defensive category -- rushing, passing, scoring, first downs. It spent the past week preparing for a Clemson team that traditionally operates out of an I-formation . . . and the Tigers suddenly switched to the wishbone in Saturday's 27-0 victory over East Tennessee State.
The Terps' numbers were reduced by two Friday when coach Mark Duffner suspended starting defensive tackle Sharrod Mack and defensive back Gene Green for unspecified violations of team rules.
They have been ridiculed and blamed for the Terps' 1-6 record.
Yet, there are some positive signs surrounding the young Maryland defensive unit, which has only two seniors on its two-deep chart.
One of them, outside linebacker Jaime Flores, believes the defense has been uplifted by its performance in the team's first victory over Duke 10 days ago and the extra week of practice. He is actually looking forward to the rush-oriented attack of the Tigers.
"Within ourselves, we have always thought the defense was pretty good," said Flores. "We've been playing better and better each week. When it came to Duke, we just wanted to play a complete game and we did.
"We carried it through all 60 minutes, flying around making the plays. The first quarter dictated the tempo and we went on from there."
Duffner agreed. "The defense felt good about themselves as that game was going on," he said. "They were carrying through the practice plan."
So the coach spent last week stressing fundamentals and working in younger players in backup roles.
Then, Clemson, as Flores put it "threw us a curveball to make us change our schemes. We practiced quite a lot against the I and now we get another formation.
"But I don't think it'll be all that complicated. And the way Clemson plays gives me time to catch my breath instead of pass rushing on every down like we had to against Duke."
Maryland has had a lot of time to heal its assorted bumps and bruises for a second straight attempt to foil the Tigers' bowl aspirations.
Last season at Byrd Stadium, the Terps knocked Clemson out of the postseason picture with a 53-23 romp and the Tigers (5-2, 3-2 in the ACC) have reached the same crossroads again.
"I didn't play in that game last year because I had been hurt," said Flores. "But the thing I remember most is the whole locker room beforehand. We were joking around, tremendously loose because there was nothing to lose.
"We're in a similar situation now. All we need is for the defense to step up again."
No doubt Maryland will miss the two suspended players.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt us," said Flores. "Madison [Bradley, tackle] has to move over to my side to replace Sharrod and a younger guy has to go to Madison's side.
"But it's happened and there is nothing we can do about it."
Duffner said Mack, a sophomore who is suspended indefinitely, will not play this week but will return "soon." He would not elaborate.
NOTES: Duffner's only concern about the extra week is that "it breaks the routine a little bit and you lose your edge. But overall I think it helped. It's like we had two weeks of winning.". . . . Special teams were a problem against Duke. Maryland had two extra points blocked and kicked off out of bounds on several occasions. "We have to get the timing accelerated on the point-afters," said Duffner. Freshman Ken Lytle is the likely place-kicker against Clemson. . . . Tigers T Andre Hewitt (dislocated kneecap) and backup QB Louis Solomon (foot injury) are questionable for Maryland. . . . The Terps have won 10 times in Death Valley, more than any other visitor. . . . Clemson used 11 different ball carriers in its last game. . . . Terps QB Scott Milanovich is second nationally in total offense with 337 yards per game, and Maryland is second in passing at 367.9.