COLLEGE PARK, Md. – This time, Bashaud Breeland hit the opponent within the rules of college football. And it was a play that may have rescued Clemson through treacherous circumstances.
Breeland was forced to sit out the opening half Saturday night due to new consequences enforced in 2013 for targeting. Because Breeland hit Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston above the shoulders in the second half Oct. 19, Breeland was ejected from that game and had to spend a 30-minute timeout all by himself in the visitor’s dressing room at Maryland while his team played the first two quarters.
“I had to sit and watch lockers,” Breeland said, “and just think about what I’m going to do when I get out there.”
What Breeland did was lead the Tigers with seven tackles in less than 30 minutes of action — he didn’t enter until Maryland’s second possession of the third quarter — and knock the ball loose from Terrapins tailback Albert Reid’s grasp.
“He was physical, and put his hat on him,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “It was a textbook tackle.”
Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey recovered the fumble with 14:02 remaining, giving the Tigers the ball on Maryland’s 22-yard-line with a 19-13 lead. Fueled by the momentum swing, Clemson found the end zone four plays later, and the Terps never came back within 10 points of the Tigers.
Breeland said he did his best to keep himself loose during the locker room, knowing he would have less time to warm up to start the second half.
“This has never happened to me before; not starting a game off or being in the game or being able to watch my team perform,” Breeland said. “It was a learning experience.”
A team manager would periodically poke his head in to deliver updates, but Breeland was all by his lonesome serving his suspension with no teammates and no television.
“He had to sit inside like a criminal or something the first half,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Breeland has probably played as well as anybody on our team, consistently all year. He’s done a great job with his technique, with his coverage. He’s been tremendous, and that (turnover) was huge. It was that shot of energy that you need, especially on the road.”
Home in the Clemson area during the Houston Texans’ bye week, former Tigers receiver DeAndre Hopkins got to spend some time the past few days with his old teammates, including buddy Sammy Watkins.
“I was telling him I was going to beat one of his records this game,” Watkins said, “and luckily it had to be that one.”
Hopkins twice caught 13 balls in a game — in last year’s opener vs. Auburn and bowl game vs. LSU, each in the Georgia Dome — but Watkins did him one better with 14 grabs Saturday afternoon, rewriting the Clemson record book.
“Sammy Watkins, what a game,” Swinney said. “He was a difference-maker for us out there tonight.”
Watkins was well in reach of the mark by halftime with 10 catches. He finished with 163 yards, his 12th career 100-yard effort to tie another school record, matched with — who else? — Hopkins.
Late in the game, Hopkins tweeted out, “Congrats to Sammy for breaking my record with 14 catches in one game.”
Clemson won the toss and chose to defer, and Maryland decided to receive the opening kickoff. The Tigers started with the ball in their previous 17 games.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd now has 10,296 passing yards for his career, becoming the third ACC quarterback to surpass 10,000 yards.
Boyd passed current Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Thad Lewis from Duke (10,065 yards), and will likely settle into second in conference history behind former N.C. State great Philip Rivers (13,484 yards.)
With one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown Saturday, Boyd also pulled even with Rivers with 112 total touchdowns in his career.
Boyd said his right ankle was a little tender during the game, an injury suffered last week vs. FSU, and the plan was to limit his rushing attempts. (He finished with 13 carries, nine in the second half.) He tweaked his left knee on a first-quarter sack, but did not miss any snaps.
Running back Zac Brooks aggravated an AC joint injury in his shoulder, and cornerback Martin Jenkins’ shoulder popped out for the third time this season on the game field. Both players’ long-term status will be evaluated early this week.