Senior led Tigers with 161 yards
By Will Vandervort
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The last time Roderick McDowell scored a touchdown for ninth-ranked Clemson was in the first half of the Tigers’ upset victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last December.
Since then the senior has been close several times to getting back in the end zone, but he has just fallen short. There was no falling short Saturday. With the Tigers in front by 13 points at Maryland with a little more than eight minutes to play in the game, McDowell took a handoff and bounced it outside where he ran thee yards for his first touchdown of the season.
“It felt pretty good, but at the end of the day it is another game and I’m much happier that we won whether I got in the end zone or not,” McDowell said following the Tigers’ 40-27 victory over Maryland Saturday.
McDowell found the end zone for a second time a little bit later in the fourth quarter, when he ran through a gaping hole on the left side and scampered 45 yards for the Tigers’ final touchdown.
“It has been a long time and if there is anybody that deserves to get that end zone, it is him,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “It was great to see him get two out there.”
It was also great to see McDowell running that hard and that fast on his 30th carry of the game. The 30 carries were a career high, as was the 161 yards he gained to lead a Clemson rushing attack that finally eclipsed the 200-yard mark in a game.
The Tigers (7-1, 5-1 ACC) rushed for 247 yards on 57 attempts. Even when the running game was not going, they kept running it.
“We want to run the football and coming into tonight, and we have said it all week long, ‘We are going to run the football,’” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “I’m going to be suborn and I’m going to be ugly about it and we are going to run the football and we are going to put it on those guys up front and take a little pressure off Tajh Boyd a little bit so let’s run the football.
“Let’s help him out a little bit.”
As it turned out, Boyd had to help the running game. Though Clemson was running the football effectively between the 20s, it struggled once it got into the red zone. Maryland, which was allowing 123.7 yards a game on the ground prior to Saturday, knew the Tigers were not going to run Boyd in the red zone after he twisted his ankle last week.
To complement matters, Boyd went down with what looked like a knee injury in the second quarter and could have taken himself out of the game. Fortunately for Clemson, he chose to stay in the game.
When Clemson was not running Boyd in the red zone the Terps keyed in on McDowell and backup Zac Brooks and did not allow them to get near the end zone.
“We thought, ‘Hey, he had a tough week last week, let’s take some pressure off of him,’” Morris said. “But we had to go back to running him. That shows you what I know.”
But once Boyd got to running the football, it loosened the defense up and got the offense going. On second-and-goal from the Maryland five, with a little more than 13 minutes to play, Boyd willed himself into the end zone on a called run play that put the Tigers up two scores.
It was just the second Clemson touchdown in seven red zone possessions up until that point in the game. The Tigers had already converted four field goals from Chandler Catanzaro and had a five-yard Boyd to freshman tight end Jordan Leggett touchdown prior to halftime.
“I kept talking to Tajh on the sideline and I came and told him, ‘Look, I have to run you,’” Morris said. “He was good with it. Early in the game, he did not look like himself. He was hobbled a little bit and was not moving as well as I thought he should be moving, but as the game went on he loosened up a little bit.”
After that conversation, Boyd broke off a 14-yard run that set up Catanzaro’s fourth field goal of the afternoon.
“I knew then he was going to be okay,” Swinney said.
Boyd finished the game with 35 yards on the ground, to go with his 304 in the air. Once he softened up the Maryland defense, then McDowell got do something he has not done in a long time – celebrate a rushing touchdown.
“I think for me, I need to have more passion and more fun when we score touchdowns,” Boyd said. “It was a joy to watch him score. He gets very excited and celebrates. It is just awesome. Sometimes we take getting in the end zone for granted because it is something we are accustomed to.
“He just gave us a huge spark today.”