Clemson running back Rod McDowell says he likes to think of himself as the Tigers’ mailman -- the dependable one who is ready to deliver in any situation.
On Saturday, in a 40-27 win at Maryland, McDowell carried the bulk of the load.
In what was the most productive performance of the season for Clemson’s running game, McDowell finished with 30 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns. It was his second career 100-yard rushing performance, a milestone he hadn’t reached since the season opener against Georgia. It was his career-high in both attempts and rushing yards, and the most carries in a game for a Clemson player since 2000. It was also the first time in school history that Clemson had a player with at least 160 yards rushing and a player with at least 160 yards receiving (Sammy Watkins' 163 yards) in the same game.
“Our mindset is like this: If we can run the ball on you, it’s going to be a long night,” McDowell said. “We’ve got wide receivers who can catch the ball and if our running game is going good, hey, you’ve gotta stop us.”
Maryland did. Just not for four quarters.
Clemson's offense was even more productive with such an effective ground game, a piece of the puzzle that has been missing since the departure of 2012 leading rusher Andre Ellington. With quarterback Tajh Boyd still nursing a nagging ankle injury, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the game plan against the Terps was to limit Boyd’s role in the running game – a deviation from the Tigers’ typical scheme. While Boyd had to run more later in the game, the Tigers still finished with a season-high 236 rushing yards.
Now the goal is to keep it up.
“We’re going to try, absolutely,” Morris said. “There’s no reason why we can’t. We want to run the football. Coming into [Saturday] we said it all week long. We’re going to run the football. I’m going to be stubborn, I’m going to be ugly about it, and we’re going to run the football. We’re going to put it on those guys up front, and take a little pressure off Tajh Boyd, and let’s run the football. Let’s help him out.”
Boyd took notice.
“The running game was probably the most impressive part about it,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been searching for all season, and to see it explode [on Saturday] was pretty awesome. Credit to that O-line, and Hot Rod did some outstanding things, made some unbelievable plays and when nothing was there he went out and created them. That’s just what he does. He’s been that type of player, he is that type of player, and I just love that he’s on my squad.”
Clemson’s offensive line also did a solid job of blocking, and when the Tigers’ zone game wasn’t very effective -- especially near the goal line -- they switched to more of a power scheme at times and mixed in some counter.
“That’s really the core of what we want to do, is run the football efficiently,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “A lot of times there’s so much of our running game that turns into passes because of how people play us. It’s just built into our system. People are going to give certain things away. We’re built to take them. We get four yards, we’re happy with that. That’s just part of the running game. But on [Saturday] they were taking some of those things away on the peripheral, so we had to be a little bit more running-back oriented. I thought Hot Rod was excellent.”
The question is whether or not he can keep it up. We'll find out starting on Saturday at Virginia.