By William Qualkinbush
Generally, football team entrances are basic. The entire mass of people runs in the same direction to the same general end point.
But prior to Clemson’s rivalry game at South Carolina on Saturday night, senior running back Rod McDowell decided to freelance.
As his teammates funneled toward the middle of Williams-Brice Stadium, across to the opposite sideline, McDowell took a more indirect route. He sprinted across the back of the end zone, carrying on an emotional conversation with the Gamecock student section.
A native of Sumter, McDowell wanted to make a memory in his final showdown with the ninth-ranked Gamecocks. He ended up being the lone bright spot for the fourth-ranked Tigers in an otherwise forgettable 31-17 defeat.
McDowell rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season and the second time in as many weeks. The graduate student rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries—an average of 7.9 yards per carry—becoming the first Tiger to reach triple-digits in rushing yardage against South Carolina since James Davis in 2007.
Considered part of a platoon at the start of fall camp, McDowell became the workhorse back for the Tigers as the season progressed. Each time the stakes have raised, he has managed to raise his level of play accordingly, and Saturday night was no exception.
Clemson has played three top ten opponents this season, and McDowell has performed admirably on all three occasions. In the bookend games against top ten SEC competition—Georgia and South Carolina—McDowell averaged 122.5 yards while carrying the ball an average of 18 times.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris says fans and viewers saw McDowell’s peak performance in his final shot against the Gamecocks.
“I thought Hot Rod played as well as I’ve ever seen him play,” Morris said. “He was a man on a mission.”
McDowell began the game on fire, accumulating 72 yards on the ground before halftime. He was also a weapon in the passing game, gaining 31 receiving yards. His biggest catch of the day—a 28-yard gain when he snuck out of the backfield after blocking—set up a field goal to end the first half.
In the third quarter, McDowell found the end zone on a four-yard scamper that tied the game at 17-17. It was the final touchdown of the game for the Tigers.
“He ran the ball extremely well, caught the ball out of the backfield well,” Morris said. “He was very focused, very determined. That was something that was really, really good to see with him.”
*Tonight’s game was the 10th meeting of top 10 teams in the FBS this year and Clemson played in three of the 10. The other two were against Georgia in the season opener and Florida State at Clemson.
*Clemson finishes the regular season with a 10-2 record. It is just the fifth time Clemson has won at least 10 games in the regular season. Dabo Swinney has been the coach for two of the five.
*Clemson and South Carolina were tied going into the fourth quarter at 17-17 tonight. It was just the fourth time in the last 37 years the two teams were tied going into the fourth period. The other years were 1993, 2005 and 2006. The two teams are tied 2-2 in those games. Clemson won in 1993 and 2005 and South Carolina won in 2006 and 2013.
*Clemson outgained South Carolina this evening 352-318. Clemson was 9-0 this year when winning the total offense margin, and had won 29 in a row dating to the 2010 loss to South Florida in the Meinke Car Care Bowl. Dabo Swinney is now 45-4 when winning the total offense statistic.
*Clemson finishes the regular season with a 10-2 record. The Tigers committed 10 turnovers in the two games they lost and just 12 in the 10 games they won. Clemson was outscored 45-0 in those two games in terms of points off turnovers and won that statistic 101-12 in the 10 games Clemson won.
*Clemson committed six turnovers tonight, most by the Tigers since they had six in a loss to Miami (FL) in 2010. The only game in history Clemson has committed more turnovers against South Carolina took place in 1945 when the Tigers had eight in a 0-0 tie.
*Clemson held South Carolina running back Mike Davis to 22 yards rushing in 15 attempts. Davis entered the game averaging 111 yards per game on the ground, and this was the fewest yards he has gained in a game this year. He previous low was 51 yards in 19 attempts against Missouri. Clemson’s rushing defense was one of just three teams this year to hold Boston College running back Andre Williams to 70 yards or less this year.
*Sammy Watkins had seven receptions for 93 yards this evening. He now has 85 catches for the year and needs just four more in the bowl game to break Aaron Kelly’s record for receptions in a season. Kelly had 88 in 2007.
*Watkins has 224 career receptions and will need nine catches in a bowl game to break Kelly’s career record of 232 set between 2005-08.
*Watkins moved into the top five in ACC history in career reception yardage tonight. The junior had 93 reception yards tonight and now has 3,164. He moved ahead of former NC State player Jericho Cotchery, who had 3,119 for the Pack between 2000-03.
*Watkins had 172 all-purpose yards tonight and now has 4861 for his career, 16th in ACC history. He needs just 139 in the bowl game to become the 10th player in ACC history to reach 5000 yards in a career.
*Vic Beasley had two sacks this evening, his 11th and 12th of the season. He also caused a fumble, the fourth time this year he has caused a fumble on a sack. He is just the fourth player in Clemson history to record at least 12 sacks in a season. The others are Keith Adams, Da’Quan Bowers and Gaines Adams.
*Tajh Boyd completed 19-27 passes for 225 yards this evening, but was held without a touchdown pass for just the second time all year. He did not thrown one in limited playing time earlier this year against South Carolina State.
*Boyd did rush for a touchdown this evening, the 25th of his career. He now has an ACC record 127 touchdowns in terms of touchdown responsibility. He has 38 total touchdowns rushing and passing this season.
*Chandler Catanzaro scored five points on a field goal and two extra points. He now has exactly 400 points for his Clemson career. He is one of just two players in ACC history to score 400 points. He has now made 39 of his last 41 field goals dating to the 2011 season.
*Bradley Pinion had his first touchback of the season tonight. He had 23 punts inside the 20 without a touchback prior to tonight. He enters the bowl game needing two punts inside the 20 to set the school record.