McDowell has eye on 1,000 yards

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Roderick McDowell came into the season as the biggest question mark on the Clemson offense. Even he knows that.

After losing two-time 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington, nobody really knew whether McDowell would be able to step right in, and become an every down back. His career to date had not lived up to expectations as he sat behind a bevy of talented backs. At one point, he even considered transferring.

But McDowell has been through enough adversity in his life to know what it means to endure and persevere. He used the doubters as motivation, and in turn, turned his doubters into believers. McDowell now needs just 44 yards in the Discover Orange Bowl against Ohio State on Friday to hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark.

That would give Clemson a 1,000-yard rusher in three straight seasons. It also would give the Tigers a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver (Sammy Watkins) for just the fifth time in school history.

“Think about it, that’s the biggest question mark coming into the season -- Could Rod McDowell be that guy?” McDowell said this week. “My work and my preparation throughout the season have showed everybody and the critics that hey I could do it.”

McDowell has had a comparable season to what Ellington produced a year ago, averaging more yards per carry (5.4 to 5.1) with slightly fewer carries (14.8 per game, to 17.6 per game). But McDowell is a much smaller back and had never been relied on to carry the load, leading to all the questions.

He answered them at the outset, grinding out 132 yards against Georgia to start the season. Though offensive coordinator Chad Morris had higher goals for the run game to start the season, he has praised McDowell for his reliability and taking on a bigger role in the offense.

Now McDowell faces one of the toughest challenges of the season, against a top-10 run defense that has allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season -- to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. What could give McDowell an edge is the way he plays. Ohio State is used to seeing much bigger power backs in the Big Ten.

Buckeyes defensive end Michael Bennett said the closest back McDowell resembles is Venric Mark from Northwestern. But McDowell is slightly bigger.

“He's got a really good jump cut, he seems to have really good vision. You can't start diving because he's gonna make you miss,” Bennett said. “I don't necessarily see him running over people but he's really shifty, really quick so we've got to make sure we can really close up the gaps in between the tackles and make him bounce it outside and let our speed get him.”

The Ohio State defense has struggled and will be without several key contributors Friday, so that could end up helping McDowell, too. But no matter what happens, he has done enough this season to make those who know him best proud of what he has accomplished.

“He waited four years to get an opportunity to start for this university,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “Everything he's done this season has been impressive. I couldn't be more proud of a guy, looking at what he's dealt with. He is one of the best backs in the country. Nobody really knows about him because he's only been a one-year starter, but this is another opportunity for him.”