CLEMSON, SC – Clemson Memorial Stadium didn’t earn the moniker Death Valley for nothing, as losses have usually been few and far between for the Tigers on their home field over the years.
One might argue, however, the Valley has never been deadlier than it is right now.
With a win Saturday against Maryland for Homecoming, Clemson can set a school record for consecutive home wins with its 12th in a row, dating to a 43-19 victory over Troy to open the 2011 season.
“I think that would be a great record to be a part of, and our guys are excited about that opportunity,” Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m proud of the consistency that we’ve been able to play with here at home, in particular.”
Clemson has the nation’s third-longest active home winning streak, trailing only Northern Illinois (20) and Michigan (12). The overall record for a home win streak at Clemson is 12 – which the Tigers can match Saturday – between 1927-30, but those games were not played in Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1942.
“A big part of that is our fans,” Swinney said of his team’s recent success on its home field. “Over this run that we’ve had here at Death Valley, the life has come back into this stadium. And our fans have been a huge part of it.
“It’s just been win after win after win where our crowd has been awesome, and it’s been a big factor. So I really hope we’ll have another great crowd this week. I’d be surprised if we didn’t – it’s Homecoming.”
And therein lies another trend the Tigers can draw confidence from. Clemson has won on Homecoming 76 percent of the time (65-20-3) since its first celebration in 1922 and has been even more successful in the modern era, winning at an 88-percent clip (35-4-2) since 1971.
“There are a lot of great things that go along with Homecoming,” Swinney said. “I look forward to this week every year and … with a 3:30 kick on Saturday, we need this stadium rocking and hope to play our best game to this point.”
Maryland (4-5, 2-3 ACC) comes into the game after losing 33-13 at home to Georgia Tech. And while the Terrapins aren’t having the kind of year they probably hoped, an incredible spate of injuries at the quarterback spot is at least partially to blame.
Maryland is on its fifth starting quarterback of the season after losing the previous four to season-ending injuries and will start freshman Shawn Petty, who began the season as a scout-team linebacker, under center Saturday.
“I’m very impressed with what they did this past week in just a few days to try to put it all together to take a guy and put him in at quarterback from the linebacker position,” Swinney said. “They had a good plan, and I expect them to be even better this week now that they’ve had two weeks to get him ready to go.”
And Maryland certainly isn’t without weapons, most notably true freshman receiver Stefon Diggs, who ranks sixth in the ACC in receiving yards (80.1 per game) and has six receiving touchdowns, along with another in the return game.
“Stefon Diggs, he’s like our freaks we’ve got on offense,” Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s that level of player, very highly skilled, terrific ball skills. You just throw it within a few yards of him, and he can make some big-time plays. He can make you miss. He’s got top-end speed and fabulous leaping ability.”
No. 10 Clemson (8-1, 5-1) comes into the game having won five straight ACC games by at least 14 points for the first time in school history, most recently a 56-20 win at Duke on Saturday.
And while the Tigers’ offense has drawn most of the acclaim – ranking seventh in the nation in scoring average (42.67 point per game) – the defense has come on strong after a somewhat shaky start.
The defense has held three straight opponents to 20 points or fewer, and has given up just one rush of 20 yards or more in those three games after allowing 19 runs of 20 yards or longer in the first six contests.
As well as his unit is playing, and even with the Terrapins on their fifth quarterback, Venables says the team can’t afford to take Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m., ESPNU) lightly if it hopes to win its 12th straight home contest.
“It’s a lot more difficult than you would think in the preparation,” he said. “They just don’t have a lot of DNA to go by. So we’ve got to really focus on us as much as we do anything, in making sure that we’re fundamentally sound.
“We’ve still got a million things to get better on, obviously, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re still focused on doing exactly that.”
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