Terps defense avoids being 'embarrassed'

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

CLEMSON, S.C. -- The only good news for the Maryland defense at halftime against Clemson on Saturday was simple: It couldn't get any worse.

"We just probably played the worst football we could possibly play in the first half and coach came in at halftime and they weren't exactly yelling at us or pointing the finger or anything, but he just flat and simple, he was like, 'You guys are playing your worst football imaginable and you're only losing by 11 points,'" defensive end Dean Muhtadi said. "That kind of got the buzz started for us because everybody started realizing, 'Wow, we couldn't play any worse and it's pretty close.'"

The was exactly the message defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said he tried to relay in the locker room.

Clemson came out in the first quarter and bulldozed through Cosh's defense. The Tigers had four first downs in their first 10 plays. They got even better on their second possession, earning five first downs on nine plays. By the end of the half, the Tigers had racked up 17 first downs and 260 yards of total offense, 195 of which were on the ground.

"We were starting to get embarrassed, and that's the biggest thing," defensive end Jeremy Navarre said. "We didn't want to get embarrassed in front of all these people. ... They were getting a lot of rushing yards already and we wanted to shut them down."

But they couldn't, and Maryland seemed doomed. Yet somehow, Clemson only led 17-6 at halftime.

Cosh made adjustments, though, and switched from a three-man front to a four-man front. He went to a more basic defense, tried to use the tackles more and solidified the inside. It worked.

Clemson running back C.J. Spiller had 93 yards in the first half and five in the second. James Davis had 100 rushing yards in the first half and 26 in the second.

"That's the thing we sold them on in the first half, is we played poorly, really bad, and we're only down by [11]," Cosh said. "It could be worse. Imagine if we only do it halfway, or something positive, we can hang in and win this."

Clemson hadn't been held scoreless in the second half since Sept. 29, 2007, against Georgia Tech. They were successful on 4 of 12 third-down conversions, and Cullen Harper was stuffed on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter, ending the Tigers' final possession.

"It was huge," Navarre said. "It's frustrating for us because we know how good we can be. How many teams can play that way, the way we played in the first half and still beat Clemson? There aren't many teams that can do that. For us to still come out and make plays like that after we played such a bad first half really shows a lot of character."