Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Notes from the Clemson / Maryland Game

They call Clemson’s entrance, running down the hill after touching Howard’s Rock, “the most exciting 20 seconds in football”. The hill is steep enough that players have to sidestep carefully down the hill…I notice some avoid the orange carpet and run down the grass, just outside the carpet. Perhaps it’s like NASCAR…will anyone fall? Ceil, Anna, Katherine, and I had nice 15 yard line lower level seats, but being near the top row provided a good view of the entire field. We were in the shade the entire game, making the chilly day seem even colder.

The Pledge of Allegiance was led on the video screen by a US soldier in Iraq, from SC, whose family was in the game. Next week they’re honoring the military and having a flyover. Before the game everyone remained standing for about 15 minutes…until Maryland made a first down. The Terps lined up to run their first play on offense…and jumped offsides. Penalties like that drive me crazy. As do Maryland’s red pants without stripes, combined with all black shoes and socks. The look makes them appear much smaller than Clemson, who sport white pants, socks, and shoes. Nike 1; Under Armour 0..

Clemson’s first play was a 60 yard pass/run to Stuckey, their star receiver from Warner Robbins. Then the offense stalled…three plays and out. But Maryland jumped offsides on the FG attempt, giving Clemson three more plays…and a made FG. Maryland copied Virginia Tech’s formula…stuff the run and make Clemson pass. This worked…Will Proctor had three long completions and some easy slants, but nothing of substance.

The Clemson running game produced over 100 yards rushing between the two featured backs, but they couldn’t push it across the goal, settling for four field goals. RB James Davis’ shoulder must’ve still been bothering him. He looks real impressive but only broke off one long run. Many times this year I’ve seen him break into the clear, but most times he is unable to go the distance. Does he lack the finishing speed of Herschel or Bo? Instead of turning on the afterburners, he wants to juke and use angles to outwit defenders…with little success.

I wonder…Will Proctor or Reggie Ball? Proctor is a 5TH year senior, a little more polished than Joe T. at UGA. By the sound of many Clemson fans, Proctor is expected to perform like an All-American. For all of Reggie Ball’s faults, he takes a beating and gets the throw off, which many times is enough for the likes of Calvin Johnson. Ball has surpassed 9,000 yards in total offense, climbing the ranks of the career ACC leaders. That night he would throw four TD passes, increasing his ACC lead. Next year both GT and Clemson have highly touted freshmen QB’s arriving. Clemson’s is a passer who has played a few times on ESPN already. Tech has two QB’s in their class…the more highly touted being in the Reggie Ball mold. Great.

The first replay came with only 2:55 left in the half…a Terp interception is ruled incomplete. Several earlier controversial plays were replayed on the video screen, but not in the booth. Clemson makes good use of the video screen, especially enticing to a young recruit (as opposed to old-school alumni). Players were taped smiling and dancing, encouraging the crowd to make more noise. Hip hop is piped in as well. The orange crowd is in the game, knowing full well to stand and holler when Maryland faces a third down. The band constantly played the dance team song from “The Longest Yard”…quite popular with the students and recruits. You’d think GT would learn a thing or two from Clemson or UGA about attracting athletes, but GT prefers to do it their own way…with results more similar to Clemson than UGA.

Interesting call: Maryland punts deep into Clemson territory, out-of-bounds. A Terp caught the punt at least three yards out-of-bounds, where the white border ended…near the 10-yard line. He did not appear at all to have stretched out and drug his feet in bounds, but the refs spotted the ball on the ten, as opposed to where the ball went out-of-bounds upfield.

As halftime comes to an end I watch the Maryland FG kicker warming up. There’s not much wind, and it’s quite evident his range is barely 45 yards…quite short for a D-1 kicker. Minutes later I notice the Terp kickoff specialist is black. These notes I jot on my pad. Clemson takes the kickoff, completes another long pass to Stuckey, and stalls again after three more plays. The 25 second clock ticks down and Clemson burns a timeout. They decide to go for it, but again run out of time and burn a second TO. They get the first down, only to settle for a FG four plays later. Clemson scored four FGs and kicked off a total of five times. Each time a cannon is fired, which is quite startling. They move the cannon to the opposite end zone, and as the game wore on I came to expect it when Clemson FG unit trotted out. Before one FG I told Ceil to expect the cannon, but she still jumped.

Now deep into the fourth quarter, 10 – 9 Maryland leads. They punt again. From around the ten, Proctor scrambles for a nice gain before being stood up. Before he hits the ground the ball shoots out, flung wildly straight back toward the goal line. A RB runs and dives, grabbing the ball on the one, though his momentum carries him into the end zone. The officials look at each other and finally signal safety, knowing the play will be reviewed. This took a while, as they look at the fumble as well as where the ball was recovered. The safety was correctly overturned, but Clemson was in a hole on the one. Proctor then hit the TE long, out in the open. He rumbled straight down field, and I admired his efficiency. Then he started weaving, making it easier for defenders to tackle him. Better to keep momentum and head straight toward the goal. The eventual TD was called back for illegal formation…the only penalty called on the Clemson offense all day. They then ran clock and kicked, going up 12 – 10.

Maryland burned their final TO after stopping Clemson on third down, to save time and ice the kicker. They took the kickoff and picked their way down the field with short passes. Clemson covered the sidelines, but Maryland was stopping the clock with first downs. How many people knew how little range the Terp kicker had, like I did? A pass was then completed down to the twenty, putting them in range. With the clock running well inside 20 seconds, the QB signaled he would stop the clock…but instead he took the ball and jittered right, moving the ball to the middle of the field. I didn’t think they could line up and get off another play, but when the QB tossed the ball down, the clock still showed two seconds remained. The crowd hollered, but the FG was true.

All of a sudden the crowd was silent, the game over. For the first time all day, cheering could be heard coming from the tiny section of Maryland fans on the far side of the field.

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