COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It's not even November, and Maryland is already in a crisis mode.
After blowing fourth-quarter leads in Atlantic Coast Conference losses to Wake Forest and Virginia, the Terrapins (4-3, 1-2) must defeat Clemson on Saturday to retain any hope of finishing first in the league's Atlantic Division.
"If we want to make some noise in the ACC and compete for the ACC championship, we've got to start winning these games," Maryland offensive tackle Dre Moore said.
Terps tight end Dan Gronkowski didn't waver when asked to assess the importance of the game.
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"This is a big, crucial game. This game will really determine our season," he said. "If we can win and keep rolling, we'll be in a good situation at the end. But if we lose, we're really in a big hole. That's going to make the rest of the season tough."
The game is no less important for Clemson (5-2, 2-2), which is coming off a 70-14 win over Central Michigan but has dropped two straight in the ACC.
If the Tigers are feeling the pressure, they aren't showing it.
"We're going to win, guaranteed," running back James Davis declared Monday.
Davis insisted that he was merely responding to a comment from Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who said he "expects to win" on Saturday. But the Terrapins see Davis' comment as brash -- and uncalled for.
"The situation they're in, it's not like they should be guaranteeing a victory or anything," Gronkowski said. "It really makes you think about the game. You really want to concentrate on Clemson right now."
Much of the Terrapins' attention will be centered upon stopping Clemson's potent running game. Davis has run for 551 yards and scored eight touchdowns, and C.J. Spiller has 300 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
They're both adept at catching the ball too, which does not bode well for a Maryland defense that last week gave up 271 yards in offense to Virginia reserve running back Mikell Simpson in an 18-17 loss.
So what can the Terrapins do to stop Davis and Spiller?
"I don't think we do anything differently. We've held some people in check and some people have gotten numbers, but we've still won games," Moore said. "We just need to tackle a little better."
It's likely that Maryland will stack the line of scrimmage, daring the Tigers to throw. At least that's what Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is expecting.
"Good defensive teams nowadays dictate whether they want you to beat them running or passing. Most defensive coordinators are going to take away the run first," Bowden said. "I would say Maryland is going to do the same thing."
If the Terps allow Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper time to throw, there's a good chance he's going to find junior Aaron Kelly, who had seven catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns last week.
"He's gotten a little more consistent," Bowden said of Kelly. "He's a pretty tough guy. He's got a unique running style. He's a long strider. He's really slippery. He's got pretty good deceptive quickness. I would say consistency and toughness would be the biggest things."
There's a very good chance the game will be a close one. In three ACC games this season, the Terrapins have lost in overtime, won by two points and lost by one.
In addition, each of the last three Clemson-Maryland games have been decided in the last three minutes. The Terps held the Tigers to four field goals last year in a 13-12 win.