By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
There are certain things taken for granted about how the Clemson football team will look in a few weeks. Tajh Boyd will be the starter at quarterback, Sammy Watkins will be the go-to receiver, Chandler Catanzaro will handle the kicking — and the list goes on from there.
Among the assumptions is that a platoon will form at running back, with Rod McDowell, D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks, and some combination of freshmen Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman splitting carries.
Apparently McDowell missed the memo.
Since the spring, the senior has been adamant about the urgency of his opportunity. Now he sees his chance to seize the moment as the season rapidly approaches and become the every-down back no one expects to see this season.
Still, as the number one guy on the depth chart in a crowded situation, it helps to have a little perspective to help light a fire within.
“My mind says I’m not the starter,” McDowell said. “I’m just going in there to have fun and compete.”
Conceptions and perceptions have taken hold of the conversation at tailback. Whether fueled by speculation that none of the players are good enough to be on the field for long stretches, or that they all function at about the same ability level, the doubt is all just talk to McDowell and his teammates.
“We’re running backs no matter what,” he said. “We’re not going out there to try and prove everybody wrong. It doesn’t really matter. Everybody can go in there and contribute, no matter who it is.”
The separation among the group, according to McDowell, will come at a place that may seem obscure to casual fans. Chad Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator, will make decisions on snap counts largely based on the willingness of players to sacrifice in pass protection.
“As a running back, you know you can run the ball,” McDowell said. “That’s how I feel. I can run the ball, no matter what. But if you can’t protect your quarterback, nobody at the next level is going to want you.”
McDowell came to Clemson as a bit of a scat back. He was slight and thin with an emphasis on speed. Over the course of his career, McDowell’s frame has allowed him to become a better runner between the tackles.
“People are saying, ‘Rod, he’s a smaller back,’” the senior said. “But I can’t keep saying that. I’m 200 pounds now. It’s time to play like it. It’s time to run like it.”
McDowell is hard on himself because he has to be. His final season of college football is quickly approaching, and as of right now, he has yet to make a true mark on the history of the sport at Clemson. Last season, McDowell had 450 rushing yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry — not a bad stat line.
But he yearns for much more as he and his teammates have championship dreams this season.
“This is it for me — my last go-around,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to have fun with it. I have to just go out there and compete, 24/7.”