CLEMSON -- It's nervous time at Death Valley. Then again, it usually is when Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen visits.
Friedgen's Terps have won two of three trips to Clemson since he took over as coach in 2001. Before that, he had two stints coordinating a Georgia Tech offense that beat the Tigers three of five games played at Memorial Stadium.
"It's exciting, it's loud, it's a tough place to play," Friedgen said.
Still, the atmosphere hasn't kept Friedgen's team from its share of Valley success. The energized Terps (3-1) look to do it again Saturday, starting their Atlantic Coast Conference season against 20th-ranked Clemson (3-1, 1-0), a team seemingly stuck on its season-opening loss to Alabama.
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Clemson has won its past three games by a total of 126-26. The victories, two over Football Championship Subdivision foes, have done little, though, to ease Tiger psyches battered by the Crimson Tide's 34-10 pummeling at the Georgia Dome a month ago.
"We don't talk about (Alabama) as much because we try to focus on the team we're playing that week, but I know it's stuck in every person's head, what happened in that game," Tiger offensive lineman Mason Cloy said. "It's definitely a motivator."
Perhaps the Tigers should remember the last time they hosted Maryland in 2006.
Clemson had come off a Thursday night meltdown at Virginia Tech, 24-7, yet had plenty to play for the following week against the Terrapins. Star runners James Davis and C.J. Spiller figured to crank up an offense that had been shut down by the Hokies.
Instead, Maryland held Davis and Spiller without a touchdown -- that hadn't happened in the previous nine games that season -- and escaped with a 13-12 victory on Dan Ennis' 31-yard field goal as time ran out.
The true cost of defeat wasn't known until the end of the season: a win against Maryland would've advanced the Tigers into the ACC's championship game.
There's a sense among some Clemson fans that the Tigers are one push away from complete collapse, no matter how early in the season it is.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said his players have improved each of the past three victories and joked his group wasn't quite "chop meat." Yet, he hasn't seen the Tiger play with the pizazz, power and passion expected from the ACC favorites.
"There's still an empty feeling from myself," Bowden said. "I want those guys to play better right now. Patience is not a good word to have when you've got to play every week and you're expected to compete and perform at a pretty high level."
Clemson's best performance probably came last week against S.C. State. The Tigers overwhelmed the Bulldogs, 54-0. Davis had three touchdown runs to lead a crisp offense. Clemson collected three interceptions and a fumble and held S.C. State to minus-10 yards rushing.
Maryland will provide a much stronger test, although it didn't seem that way a few weeks back after its 24-14 loss at Middle Tennessee State. The Terps turned their fortunes around with a 35-27 victory against California.
Friedgen challenged their character leading up to the Bears game and was gratified "they found a way to reach down and have a very good game," he said.
Maryland features an experienced defensive front seven, led by senior Dave Phillistin, the league's top returning tackler this season. Match that with Clemson's patchwork offensive line, which has come out of games intact just once this season. The latest injury was to freshman David Smith, himself a backup for the season opener until forced into a starting role.
The ACC's leading rusher is also in this game, but he doesn't play in Clemson's star-filled backfield. Maryland's Da'Rel Scott has 407 yards in three games this season, nearly surpassing by himself the 454 gained by the Tigers' "Thunder and Lightning" duo of Davis and Spiller.
The Terps also feature dynamic receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who gained 81 yards on two reverses last week against Eastern Michigan. He added a 32-yard TD catch from Chris Turner.