Empathy won’t cloud Clemson’s view of the finish line.
Ranked 13th by the BCS, Clemson cannot afford a misstep against Maryland despite the sorrowful story of a team that needed to virtually create a quarterback after losing four by the eighth game of the season.
So mercy isn’t part of Clemson’s vernacular.
“We’re trying to play to a standard,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said Tuesday. “We want to play to our best level possible, even if it’s a jayvee team or whoever it’s against.”
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Shawn Petty makes his second start at quarterback Saturday for Maryland (4-5, 2-3 in the ACC) in Clemson’s homecoming game. Signed in February as a linebacker, Petty played both at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, Md., where the team went 10-1 his senior season, and was working with the scout team defense when he was pressed into duty as the backup to freshman quarterback Caleb Rowe for the Boston College game.
A product of Blue Ridge High in Northern Greenville County, Rowe sustained a torn ACL in the fourth quarter and in came 6-foot-1 and 240-pound Petty. Rowe was pressed into duty after Perry Hills tore his ACL against N.C. State a week earlier. Hills opened the season as the starter when C.J. Brown sustained an ACL tear in fall camp and Devin Burns was counted out with a foot injury.
The dominoes began to fall in March when Brown, who rushed for 162 yards in Clemson’s win at Maryland last year, was handed the job after Danny O’Brien decided to transfer to Wisconsin.
Petty passed a three-day crash course in offense and acquitted himself adequately in a 33-13 loss to Georgia Tech.
“I thought the coaches did a terrific job under the circumstances,” said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “What a nightmare.”
Maryland came out intending to make a statement, but Petty was sacked on the first snap. He completed one pass in the first half for one-yard yet finished 9 of 18 for 115 yards and two touchdown passes to freshman receiver Stefon Diggs.
“I think he’s got a good, strong supporting cast,” Venables said. “I know that they lost some of the dynamic playmaking ability, but I think the quarterback gave them a chance to execute what they wanted to do.”
Venables said it was hard to draw many conclusions about Petty and the Maryland offense.
“It was very windy, so it’s very hard to gauge the accuracy he has, but you could see he’s a big, strong athlete that can throw the ball,” he said, “Didn’t seem to get overwhelmed with anything.”
Venables and coach Dabo Swinney were complimentary of running back Wes Brown, senior tight end Mark Furstenberg and Diggs, a big-time talent.
“Wes is a big, strong running back with a great pad lean, and Stefon Diggs, he’s like the freaks we’ve got on offense,” Venables said. Furstenberg, said Swinney, “seems like he hurts us every year.”
Swinney said his team mustn’t lose the edge that brought Clemson to 8-1 and top 10 in the polls. Boyd has passed for five touchdowns each of the past two games, and running back Andre Ellington was “on pace” to return after a hamstring injury the first play at Duke though, “We’re not going to force him into action.”
Maryland’s defense ranks 11th nationally in total defense; second in total defense, rush defense and pass defense in the ACC. Joe Vellano moved from inside to an end in the 3-4 scheme and leads the ACC on tackles for loss. Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield leads the league in tackles and Darin Drakeford is among the leaders in sacks.
A Clemson win would be the 12th in a row in Death Valley, breaking the record set more than 20 years ago (1989-91). It is also the third-longest home win streak in the nation.
“We put lot of work into this season,” said Boyd, the starter in all 11 games. “We want to go out there and let the world see it.”