CLEMSON, S.C. — Two seasons ago, Maryland found itself trailing Clemson by 11 points at the half. The Terps memorably came back to win and silence the Death Valley crowd.
Could the Terps duplicate that feat? The truth is, Maryland didn't really want to find out.
But there the Terps were on Saturday trailing the Tigers by 10 points at halftime. This time, Maryland (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) couldn't escape, losing 31-7 to a Clemson team desperate to right its season after losing three games in a row.
The loss kept the Terps still looking for that elusive big road win to make their "comeback" season a reality. Maryland has now lost 10 straight games in opponents' stadiums dating back to that successful rally against Clemson in 2008.
"We've got to win on the road," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who appeared even more frustrated than he normally is after losses because of penalties and other mistakes. "I think sometimes our guys think we're on an amusement trip. We're on a business trip to win football games. We've got some real tough road games coming up." Three of the next four games are on the road.
Maryland was penalized 10 times for 93 yards.
"To go out and not play our best is frustrating. Very frustrating," Friedgen said. " [We] are causing the mistakes, things we can control. Until we can not do that, we're going to always be mediocre — at best."
The Terps were largely undone on special teams, surrendering an 87-yard kickoff return touchdown by Andre Ellington and a 41-yard punt return by Jaron Brown to set up another score. Compounding the special-teams woes was a 33-yard field-goal miss by Travis Baltz that seemed to blunt Maryland's momentum in the second quarter.
Trailing 10-7 but moving the ball, the Terps had driven to the Clemson 7. But quarterback Danny O'Brien, making his third career start, was sacked on third-and-1, pushing the ball back nine yards. Baltz pulled the ball wide right on the next play, and the Terps never seemed quite the same after that.
"That situation right there was critical, missing the field goal," offensive coordinator James Franklin said. "Because I think it's a game that we needed to keep the score close. We didn't want to get in a situation where we had to throw the ball every single down with the D-line that they have."
O'Brien said the pass was designed for fullback Taylor Watson.
"Taylor got kind of caught up by the D-end — he made a good play getting his hands on him. Otherwise, he would have been wide open," O'Brien said.
Maryland was victimized by Clemson's defensive pressure in the second half. Junior defensive end Da'Quan Bowers showed why he is one of the nation's top sack specialists, harassing O'Brien repeatedly and finishing with three sacks.
O'Brien, who hadn't been intercepted before Saturday, tossed a fourth-quarter interception that was returned 61 yards for a touchdown by Clemson's Xavier Brewer. Quarterback Jamarr Robinson came in for O'Brien on a handful of plays but managed to create little offense.
Prior to Saturday, Friedgen had won three games in four tries at Death Valley (81,500 capacity), the largest stadium used by an ACC school other than Florida State. Maryland had won the last two games against Clemson despite big games by running back C.J. Spiller — the NFL star who returned Saturday to have his jersey number retired.
Friedgen had said last week that the Terps needed to play their best game of the season to beat the Tigers again. It didn't happen.
O'Brien was intercepted three times — all after Clemson stepped up the pressure once Maryland had to resort to passing almost exclusively when it got behind.
Maryland applied pressure of its own on Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker, who was only 7-for-20 for 106 yards. But Parker was often able to scramble away from Maryland's rush.
"He's really hard to sack," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, whose team moved to 3-3 (1-2 ACC) with the largest victory margin over a Maryland team since Friedgen became coach in 2001.
Maryland may have been hurt because its best playmaker, receiver-returner Torrey Smith (four catches for 55 yards), has a sore ankle and has been unable to practice. "Torrey's a great player but you've still got to practice. I guess I'm old school," Friedgen said.
Said Smith: "I don't like sitting out (practices). I feel like I'm leaving my teammates out to dry. I didn't battle with them all week."
Maryland used trickery to take the lead in the first half. Tailback Da'rel Scott took a handoff, pulled up and threw back across the field to O'Brien for a touchdown to put Maryland ahead 7-3. The lead did not last long. Ellington fielded the ensuing kickoff on his 13 and raced up the middle, outrunning Trenton Hughes to the end zone to give Clemson a 10-7 lead.