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Little things send Clemson on 3-game losing streak

Each time Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks he has solved a problem keeping the Tigers from winning, another one pops up.

In a loss to Auburn, offensive communication stalled Clemson after it took a 17-0 lead. Against Miami, the Tigers kept in touch better, but allowed too many big plays and turned the ball over six times.

Against North Carolina, Clemson only allowed two plays over 20 yards and had no turnovers. But nine penalties for 81 yards — the most since Swinney took over two years ago — doomed the Tigers to another 2-3 start.

Swinney says Clemson hasn't lost hope. But he says the Tigers know they need to beat a Maryland team that has won three of the last four against the Tigers to get back on track.

"You stick a finger in this, stop it, and it starts leaking again," Swinney said.

The frustrating three-game losing streak has left Swinney with another mess to clean up. But the guy who was selling real estate seven years ago when Clemson took a chance and hired him to coach its wide receivers is confident he can turn this around, too.

"I'm kind of in the pit of it right now," Swinney said. "All I can tell you is, I've always been able to look back and I can understand those growing pains at the time. Always."

Clemson bounced back from last year's 2-3 start to win its division and end up in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. To do the same thing this year, the Tigers will have to start Saturday by beating Maryland.

The Terrapins got their only ACC win last year against Clemson, marking a low point of 2009. The Tigers came up empty in four trips into Maryland territory in the fourth quarter, missing two field goals, losing a fumble and punting from the 43.

"We tried our best to give them that game last year. It was really an act of God that we won, and I thank him for it quite a bit," Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said.

Clemson's frustration level is just as high this year. North Carolina drove for a critical fourth quarter touchdown in last week's 21-16 win on a 14-play drive that saw the Tigers commit penalties on an interception, a third down incompletion and a fourth down sack.

Tigers offensive linemen Chris Hairston, who got a personal foul on the first play from scrimmage last Saturday, thinks the team may have been so angry about the little things not going right that they tried too hard.

"You may be frustrated, but you can't play football out of frustration," he said.

But that frustration hasn't spilled off the field. On Monday, senior cornerback Marcus Gilchrist surprised Swinney with a knock on his door.

"I just wanted to relay the message to him, coming from the whole team, that we're behind him 100 percent. Right now, even though it may seem like we are failing, failure is not an option," Gilchrist said.

The message was well appreciated by Swinney, who several times this week insisted his team has not lost hope and can still reach all of its goals, including an ACC title, with just a little help.

"It's very frustrating because I know the character of our team. I know the talent of our team. I know how hard our team has worked and how they've sacrificed," Swinney said. "I really want to see them taste success."

A loss Saturday for Clemson likely ends any hope of an ACC title game bid. Maryland won its only ACC game against Duke and can stay on top of the Atlantic Division by picking up its fourth win in five tries over the Tigers.

"It's big for our side, too," Terps defensive lineman Joe Vallano said. "They have to win, but it kind of feels it's like that every week for every team."

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AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in College Park, Md., contributed to this report.