COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Eventually, the healthier team and the more talented team came through.
What: No. 9 Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) at Virginia (2-6, 0-4)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but No. 9-ranked Clemson’s return to the win column was a sight for sore eyes regardless of how it cobbled together a 40-27 victory over Maryland on Saturday afternoon in front of a late-arriving crowd of 48,134 fans at Byrd Stadium.
Game Ball / Numbers
Position: Wide receiver
Statistics: School-record 14 catches, good for 163 yards; his 12th career 100-yard game
BY THE NUMBERS
10 – Sacks by defensive end Vic Beasley, who had his third strip-sack of the year
13 – Clemson’s interception total this season; safeties Jayron Kearse and Robert Smith made first-half picks
35 – Consecutive starts for Tajh Boyd, who’s 28-7 in three years
160 – First time in school history Clemson’s had a 160-yard rusher and 160-yard receiver in the same game
The Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) were fine in the middle of the field, racking up 98 plays and 551 yards on the night. But they had field-goal drives of 55, 63, 67 and 68 yards, consistently moving the football inside the red zone but settling for three points at a time from kicker Chandler Catanzaro.
“You take a drive the length of the field, get inside the 5-yard-line, and not get anything but a field goal off it three times, four times … however many times it was is too many,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
“Every drive ends with a kick, that’s what we talk about. But we’d much rather it be an extra point and not a field goal. So, very disappointed with that. Just getting beat at the point of attack and having a couple of tackles for loss.”
However, the Tigers did complete the first half with their usual two-minute attack, soaring 58 yards in seven plays over 104 seconds capped by tight end Jordan Leggett’s 5-yard touchdown catch from Tajh Boyd to give Clemson a 16-7 lead after an unsettling first 30 minutes.
The Tigers finished 7-for-8 scoring when reaching the red zone, but only had three touchdowns.
“We probably could have put this game away a lot easier if we do a better job in the red-zone, goal-line package,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ll have to go back and see what our issues were there. That was the biggest disappointment.”
Senior tailback Roderick McDowell and junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins each had memorable games on the stat sheet, but each veteran fumbled inside Clemson’s 25-yard-line to give the Terrapins plenty of opportunity to seize the lead.
But plagued by inexperience across the lineup, the Terps (5-3, 1-3) settled for field goals themselves. Caleb Rowe, starting for the injured C.J. Brown, only completed two of his first 19 passing attempts of the second half.
“We tightened up on our coverage, got a little tighter up on them to take away the quick throws, make them hold the ball a little bit longer, and mixed in some good pressures at critical times that affected them,” Swinney said.
McDowell carried 30 times for 161 yards — exceeding both his career highs, which were set in the Georgia opener.
The fifth-year senior scored his first touchdown of any kind since Oct. 6 of last year, breaking a 14-game streak without reaching the end zone. McDowell sealed the victory with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“It felt pretty good, but at the end of the day, it’s all about having a team spirit,” McDowell said. “As long as you’re helping your team out, that’s all that matters to me.”
The Tigers rushed for 248 yards, the first time they went over the 200-yard mark this season, and did it against a Maryland defense averaging 123.7 yards on the ground entering Saturday.
Boyd had a quietly efficient effort, completing 28-of-41 passes for 304 yards and one touchdown with one interception. He tweaked his left knee on a first-quarter sack in the red zone, but didn’t miss any snaps until backup Cole Stoudt relieved him in mop-up duty late in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t expect anything other than him to respond with a great game tonight,” Swinney said. “He got a little banged up, but he played through it. Just another great game, responding from one of his few bad ones (against Florida State).”
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins set a school record with 14 receptions, topping DeAndre Hopkins by one grab. Watkins finished with 161 yards, lifted by a monstrous first half (10 catches, 127 yards.)
The Tigers’ defense had two interceptions in the first half (safeties Jayron Kearse and Robert Smith) and caused two fumbles in the second half. Defensive end Vic Beasley recorded his third strip-sack of the season on what was also his national-leading tenth sack.
Clemson is still chasing Florida State in the ACC Atlantic Division, but the Seminoles must lose two of their final three league games to let Clemson have a peek at an ACC Championship game berth.
Clemson won its seventh straight game away from Death Valley, the program’s longest such streak in 35 years. It will go for No. 8 next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Virginia (2-6, 0-4.)