Who: No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) at Maryland (5-2, 1-2)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: College Park, Md.
Line: Clemson by 14
CLEMSON – Every time the Tigers go from their locker rooms to the practice fields, they have to go for a ride; which cuts into NCAA-imposed time windows and annoys Clemson’s coaching staff.
The team’s locker room is part of the WestZone club connected to Memorial Stadium, but the practice fields are on the opposite side of Perimeter Road, about a 7-minute walk; or as it is for the Tigers, a 2-minute tram shuttle which requires multiple trips to truck the 100-plus players, coaches and managers.
Good news for the football program: last Friday, as part of the board’s concept pre-approval on a multitude of athletic facilities, plans are in place to construct a brand-new football operations building next to the indoor practice facility.
The conceived building would span between 60,000 to 80,000 square feet, complete with weight, training, equipment and locker rooms and coaches’ offices. The estimate cost is $30 million, which would be funded via athletic department bonds and booster gifts.
“We train our guys year-round across the street,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “There’s always a little bit of a disconnect when they’re over there and we’re over here in the summertime.”
While there’s no set timetable on when the new building would begin or complete construction, Swinney’s encouraged by the limited inconvenience it would cause during the 12-month football cycle that encompasses practice, camps and recruiting.
“I think it would be a great thing for us because we wouldn’t have to be displaced while it’s being built,” Swinney said. “It allows us to have a football operations center where it all happens right there. Then on gameday, you walk in that locker room, it’s special. Seven days a year. Big picture, it would be a huge thing for us.”
This is the first year of Clemson’s indoor facility sheltering a 100-yard artificial turf, which has paid off huge dividends considering the rainfall in 2013.
“I could stay here forever and be fine,” Swinney said. “But you’re always paying attention to what’s going on out there, and we talk about best being the standard. We want to continue to get better.”
Pound the ball
Without a clear workhorse in the backfield, Clemson ranks ninth in rushing among ACC teams (165.4 yards per game), its lowest relative rating to its peers since the year Swinney took over as interim coach in 2008.
Even though Roderick McDowell and Zac Brooks are each averaging 5.0 yards per carry, the Tigers haven’t posed a significant threat on the ground since the opener against Georgia, when Clemson had a season-best 197 yards.
Clemson had five games of 200-plus rushing yards in 2012, but hasn’t had any over its past nine games going back to Nov. 17 of last year against North Carolina State.
“How confident am I in the running game? We’re doing some decent things and we’ve got to keep building on it,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “Not going to give up on the run game. Can’t do that.”
Said center Ryan Norton, “We have flaws, but they’re flaws we can fix. The breakups on our offensive line is when one guy will mess up, and that screws up the whole chain.”
Norton won’t question the gameplans put in place by Morris, but acknowledges it’s more enjoyable for himself, the guards and the tackles hear the call for handoffs.
“The good thing about playing offensive line is moving a guy from Point A to Point B against their will. The run game is when you can really do that,” Norton said. “The pass game, you’re protecting someone. The run game is a little more fun for us up front.”
Clemson has run the ball at least 55 percent of its plays in three games: Georgia, Wake Forest and Syracuse. Those are also the same three games Clemson has thrown it fewer than 37 times.
In related news, Tajh Boyd’s quarterback rating has finished higher than 150 points in three games. Georgia, Wake Forest and Syracuse.
“I like to think at times we can take over a game,” Norton said, “but we have to prove that to Coach Morris for him to give us an opportunity.”
Still the one
Despite a difficult evening chasing down FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, Clemson’s defense remains the national leader with 67 tackles for loss.
Even though Maryland’s undergone an offensive transformation – improving its scoring offense by more than 150 yards per game – the Terrapins are tied for 13th-worst in the country in negative yardage plays.