By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
A few weeks ago, Roderick McDowell predicted he would get chills when he stood atop the hill for the first time as Clemson’s starting tailback. His prediction came true, as verified by him after Saturday’s 38-35 win over Georgia.
Many people made predictions about how the latest clash of titans would transpire. Few included McDowell in a starring role.
The fifth-year senior lives his life with a chip on his shoulder, so it’s no surprise to see he runs that way. So many Bulldogs and Tigers were supposed to be major factors, it appeared there was hardly room for others to crash the party. The list included several studs who could see the word “Heisman” attached to their names throughout this season.
But McDowell was excited to take the stage in front of a national audience waiting for him to shrink, to fall by the wayside as others named Gurley and Marshall on the opposite sideline commandeered the narrative at running back. Even in his own offense, Boyd and Watkins and Bryant were the media darlings in this primetime showcase.
“Hot Rod” knew the way the story was supposed to read. He knew it didn’t include him. He didn’t care.
“I don’t worry about anybody else but our running back corps,” McDowell said. “Georgia does their thing, we do ours. At the end of the day, I don’t worry about anybody else but my offense and my unit.”
McDowell became the workhorse in a situation that seemed not to require one. The Clemson backfield was an army of one in the first half against the Bulldogs, with the Sumter native toting the rock 11 times for 53 yards.
He was just getting warmed up.
As the Tigers built a two-possession lead late into the fourth quarter, it was McDowell—along with the short-yardage prowess of Tajh Boyd—who propelled Chad Morris’ vaunted offense down the field on a clock-burning venture. On the team’s final two drives, the 5’10” player no one thought would ever see the field picked up 58 yards on seven carries to help ice a monumental victory.
“Two years ago, he was a transfer type of guy,” Morris said of Hot Rod. “He wasn’t even going to be here. He got very little playing time. To come out tonight and play like he did, I’m proud of him.”
The lead actors in Saturday’s affair all had moments where their respective stars shone brightly, but McDowell added a few of his own in ways many did not expect.
As last year’s starter Andre Ellington looked on from the sidelines, McDowell paid homage to his predecessor on several occasions. There were multiple instances where he churned out extra yardage in a way akin to a player much more bulky than he by keeping his legs moving. He showed the ability to make multiple cuts to pick up precious yardage.
Then there was the 36-yard run highlighted by a whirling dervish spin move that made McDowell look like he belonged in the same breath with the players that had been so amply hyped throughout the offseason. That run set up Clemson’s final score of the game.
McDowell fully expected a game like this, even if many others did not. Georgia came in with a physical pedigree and a backfield tandem with a catchy nickname, things Clemson did not have—at least, according to the pundits who wrote what they thought was the ideal script.
Yet here came McDowell and the Tigers, virtually matching the Bulldogs yard-for-yard on the ground and able to ice the game by establishing a line of scrimmage many assumed to be Georgia’s to lose.
“We’re not surprised,” McDowell said of his team’s ability to match the Bulldogs on the ground. “Coach Morris practices trying to be that smashmouth football team. We proved it tonight, and we’ve got to keep on doing it.”
Perhaps in future games, McDowell will be featured in a leading role. On Saturday, however, he was content to be the extra who thrust himself in front of the camera and demanded that others watch him put on a winning performance.