COLLEGE PARK -- Representatives of the Gator and Carquest bowls and 43,603 homecoming fans showed up at Byrd Stadium to see if Maryland could clinch its first winning season in five years.
What they witnessed was the Terps' worst offensive performance in four seasons under coach Mark Duffner when Clemson handled Maryland, 17-0, yesterday. It was the Tigers' third straight shutout of the Terps, but the home team's quarterback controversy was as much a factor as the visitors' defensive scheme.
Maryland (5-2, 3-2) mustered just 171 yards and 10 first downs, the Terps' lowest totals in 40 games under Duffner. The coach said both of his quarterbacks were prepared to play, but sophomore Brian Cummings went the entire way while senior Scott Milanovich stewed on the sidelines.
Cummings was asked if he had lost his edge during the quarterback shuffle of the past month.
"I don't know," Cummings said. "I wasn't looking for any switch. There's not much we could do. Schematically, they beat us. Physically, they beat us."
Milanovich declined to comment after the game, but did have a lengthy conversation afterward with Clyde Christensen, the Clemson offensive coordinator who was his quarterback coach two years ago. The tension on the Terps' sideline was visible, as the physical distance between Milanovich and the coaches increased as the game progressed and it became obvious that Duffner was committed to Cummings.
In Maryland's most recent game, a 9-6 win at Wake Forest two weeks ago, Cummings had come off the bench in the second quarter after four unimpressive possessions under Milanovich. The school's career record-holder for touchdown passes, yardage and completions didn't warm up this time, even though the offense never got more than two first downs on any of its 14 possessions.
"It wasn't Brian that was keeping us from moving," Duffner said. "We lost as a football team."
Maryland spread its pratfalls around. An ailing Joe O'Donnell, one of the most reliable kickers in the ACC, wasn't close on a 36-yard field-goal attempt. The special teams also contributed a roughing-the-punter penalty that set up Clemson's 32-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the last play of the first half.
Despite that play and 395 yards of offense by Clemson (4-3, 3-2), the Terps' defense forced three fumbles and played well enough to win.
But the offense, which has one touchdown and 57 yards net rushing in its past three games, struggled despite two weeks of practice with Cummings as No. 1.
"We didn't run routes good, we didn't pass good, we didn't run the ball good," junior slot receiver Geroy Simon said. "If you're going to be a team that's supposed to be good, you have to make the plays."
Maryland didn't have any red-zone failures, because it never got inside Clemson's 20-yard line. The offensive line was supposed to be solidified by the return of left tackle Darryl Gilliam from a knee injury, but the running game again was ineffective.
Clemson went with a three-man front and took away the short passes to Maryland's four receivers. When they were open, Cummings was off: He couldn't get the ball to speedsters Jermaine Lewis and Mancel Johnson after play-action got them behind the Clemson secondary.
Cummings, who started the year 4-0, completed 15 of 35 passes for 135 yards and was intercepted twice.
"I don't know that our defense can play any better than they did today," said Clemson coach Tommy West said.
It was the Tigers' first victory over a team with a winning record this, and the eighth time in nine years they've beaten the Terps.
Maryland's biggest gain came on the opening kickoff, which Chad Scott returned 28 yards, but that was the high point for the junior cornerback and the other Terps.
On Maryland's second possession, Buddy Rodgers fumbled a swing pass at his own 27-yard line. Sophomore tailback Raymond Priester, whose 163 yards rushing nearly matched Maryland's offensive production, scored four plays later on a 4-yard run with 7:11 elapsed.
Maryland was very much alive heading into the last two minutes of the half. A 55-yard punt by Milanovich pushed Clemson back to its 12. Quarterback Nealon Greene sprained his left ankle three plays later. Then the Terps decided to go for a blocked punt with 24 seconds left -- a decision they would regret.
Scott was one of the Terps who ran into punter Chris McInally. Louis Solomon, who entered the game with one completion on the season, threw a jump ball to the right side, where Tony Horne was covered by Scott. Horne tipped the ball up and behind him, and Clemson's Antwuan Wyatt beat free safety Lamont Gore to the ball for a 14-0 lead.
"It was a kind of a fluke play," Scott said.
Maryland next goes to Louisville, where Duffner will seek happier resolutions to his quarterback situation and his team's bowl hopes.
Next for Maryland
Site: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.