The last thing the Terps needed was to turn the ball over to a potent Clemson offense twice in the first quarter. But that's exactly what happened, setting the stage for a 45-10 romp by the host Tigers in front of 76,000 at Memorial Stadium.
Clemson had 35 points — eclipsing the previous season high against the Maryland defense — by halftime in handing the Terps their fourth consecutive loss.
That was more than enough against a Maryland offense with its leading rusher (Wes Brown) and top receiver (Stefon Diggs) also out with injuries.
“You just can't turn the ball over three times [in the first half], give up one up for seven points,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall. “You just can't do that against a Top 10 team in the country.”
Shawn Petty, a freshman who began Maryland's season at linebacker but switched to offense when four quarterbacks were lost to season-ending injuries, had a pair of first-quarter fumbles — one of which Clemson's Corey Crawford returned 16 yards for a touchdown.
The other fumble also led to a Clemson scoring drive.
“Shawn has been put into a difficult situation, no question about that,” Edsall said. “But the one thing we've tried to stress to him is secure the ball; not turn the ball over. He's got some bad habits we haven't been able to get him out of in the time we've had him at quarterback — carrying the ball too low, not putting two hands on the ball when he goes in there.”
“I have to work on holding on the ball,” Petty said. “The offense can't move the ball if I'm turning the ball over.”
The way Clemson (9-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) diced up the Maryland defense early, the Terps (4-6, 2-4) couldn't afford to be so generous offensively.
The Tigers had three scoring drives of 2 minutes, 11 seconds or less in addition to the scoring return as they built a 28-0 lead 1:04 into the second quarter. Touchdown passes from Tajh Boyd capped all three scores. Boyd left the game after two drives in the third quarter, finishing with 261 yards on 18 of 26 passing.
“One of the things we wanted to do was make them go the long way,” Edsall said. “Try not to give up the big plays. We gave up a couple too many big plays when we didn't use good eye discipline on some of the routes.
“Nobody has stopped them this year. We just wanted to try to make sure we could try to slow them down … play really good red-zone defense and force them to kick field goals.”
The Tigers had 436 yards of offensive, 86 below their season average.
Petty did help Maryland produce a touchdown after a fumble recovery at the Clemson 18. He found Devonte Campbell for a 17-yard scoring pass play with 11:08 left in the first half.
“It's been a challenge” making the change from defense to offense, Petty said. “But [offensive coordinator Mike] Locksley has done a good job of making sure I'm getting everything. He's cutting down the playbook for me and making sure I'm getting everything. If I don't get it, he's taking it out of the playbook.”
The Tigers tacked on a fifth score just before halftime on a 6-yard run by Andre Ellington.
Things could have been worse. Maryland's defense recovered three fumbles in the first half, halting one Clemson drive at the Terps' 1-yard line.
Dexter McDougle fielded a short field-goal try by Clemson deep in the end zone and returned the ball 74 yards before running out of steam. The hustle led to a 39-yard field goal by Brad Craddock.
Freshman Brandon Ross topped the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career, with a 44-yard run in the third quarter the highlight. Ross accounted for the majority of the Terrapins' 180 offensive yards. Petty completed 6 of 12 passes for 41 yards.
“I thought Brandon had a good day,” Edsall said. “I thought he ran hard and showed something.”
Maryland's defense got a moral victory of sorts in the third quarter when it forced Clemson to settle for a field goal after having a first-and-goal.
Clemson began using its reserves liberally by late in the third quarter. Cole Stoudt, son of former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Cliff Stoudt, directed the Tigers’ sixth scoring drive.
Matt Robinson returned for Maryland’s defense after missing five games and led both teams with 10 individual tackles.
The Terps play host to No. 8 Florida State next Saturday.