COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The offense clicked on the ground and in the air, amassing 551 yards on 98 plays. The defense came up big during a pivotal stretch of the third quarter, and special teams contributed 16 points.
It was a relentless performance by No. 9 Clemson, which returned to form in grand style Saturday in a 40-27 victory over injury-riddled Maryland.
Tajh Boyd threw for a touchdown and ran for a score, Sammy Watkins had a school-record 14 catches for 163 yards and Roderick McDowell rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns to help the Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) rebound from last week’s 51-14 defeat against Florida State.
“It’s good to get the win, get back on track,” coach Dabo Sweeny said. “We had a great week, we really did. I thought our guys bounced back. If there was a hangover, if we weren’t focused, this team could have gone south in a hurry. But it didn’t. It responded. That’s what great teams do.
“Everybody was disappointed with a loss last week, but heck, there’s a lot of teams out there that would like to be 7-1 right now. We’re a good football team, and if we can finish this thing the right way, we have a chance to be a great football team.”
Against Florida State, Boyd threw for 156 yards and two interceptions. He rebounded to go 28 for 41 for 304 yards with one interception against the Terrapins (5-3, 1-3).
“He didn’t make many mistakes tonight,” Sweeny said. “He played a really, really good football game.”
Especially in the fourth quarter, when Clemson turned a 19-13 advantage into a 20-point cushion.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” Boyd said. “We’re a physical team, a tough team. We come back and respond from adversity. That’s what we do.”
The Tigers needed four field goals from Chandler Catanzaro to take a slim lead into the fourth quarter.
After that, however, Maryland’s defense finally caved. Boyd scored on a 5-yard run and McDowell ran it in from the 3 to make it 33-13 with 7:57 remaining, and a 45-yard touchdown run by McDowell gave Clemson a 40-20 lead with 5:03 to go.
It was the seventh straight road win for the Tigers, their longest streak since a nine-game run in 1978-79.
“If you’re going to be a great program, you’ve got to win consistently on the road,” Sweeny said. “I’m just really proud of our guys for coming up here and taking care of business.”
Maryland played without several key injured starters, including quarterback C.J. Brown, running back Brandon Ross, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and tight end Dave Stinebaugh.
Caleb Rowe went 19 for 45 for yards and three touchdowns, and Levern Jacobs had eight catches for 158 yards. But the Terrapins went 48 minutes between their first and second touchdowns and committed four turnovers.
“I feel like I did OK,” Rowe said. “Of course, I left plays out on the field, everyone did. But it just wasn’t good enough in the end.”
For three quarters, Maryland did a good job of stopping Clemson in the red zone. In the fourth quarter, the Tigers converted their scoring opportunities into touchdowns.
“We gave up a couple plays there late,” Terrapins coach Randy Edsall said. “What we were going to have to do is just try to hold on and not let them score the touchdown late and kick field goals, but we weren’t able to do that in the fourth quarter.”
Trailing 16-7 at halftime, Maryland converted fumbles by Watkins and McDowell into field goals to close to 16-13 with four minutes elapsed in the third quarter.
Sweeny said that might have been the turning point.
“Hats off to our defense,” he said. “When you put the ball down twice inside your own 20 and they only come away with six points, our defense responded.”
Boyd answered with a 68-yard drive before Catanzaro connected on a 24-yarder.
Despite making only three first downs in the third quarter, Maryland remained within striking distance until running back Albert Reid lost a fumble at the Maryland 31 and Clemson’s Spencer Shuey took it to the 22. Four plays later, Boyd scored to make 26-13 with 13:04 left.
That gave Boyd 112 touchdowns via run or pass, tied with Phillip Rivers for most in ACC history.
Watkins had 10 catches for 127 yards by halftime, and Clemson ran more than twice as many offensive plays as the Terrapins in building a nine-point cushion at intermission.
Down 3-0, the Terrapins got a big play from Jacobs in his first start of the year. Jacobs grabbed a short pass over the middle and sprinted into the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown.
Denied after getting a first down at the Maryland 2, the Tigers settled for a field goal to make it 7-6.
Then, after Jayron Kearse picked off a Rowe pass in the end zone, Clemson put together a 13-play march that ended with another field goal.
The Tigers finally got their first touchdown with nine seconds left in the half. After a 30-yard completion to Watkins, Boyd threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Jordan Leggett.