Clemson's Running Game Must Be Respected

By Colby Lanham
Clemson running back Rod McDowell
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson‘s offense is without a doubt among the best in the nation, pegged alongside the likes of teams like Oregon, Texas A&M, and Baylor. Each team is respected with its great offensive capabilities and its ability to breeze past defenses in this era of fast paced spread offense with the use of tempo.

But for all of the respect garnered towards Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris‘ use of his offense, the running back position was called into question by many this season with the loss of former All-ACC running back Andre Ellington. Senior running back Rod McDowell was to be first in line for what was expected to become a by-committee backfield with Zac Brooks and DJ Howard behind him. But McDowell waited patiently for three years, and he has taken advantage of his opportunity.

In Week 1 against Georgia, the Bulldogs were comfortably sitting in their two deep safety shell to prevent the deep ball to Clemson’s speedy receivers. The Tigers fed McDowell early, and he wouldn’t disappoint.

McDowell showcased his shifty running ability throughout the entire game en route to 132 rushing yards in his starting debut. McDowell was fed the ball 22 times, and it didn’t look like too much of a by-committee backfield. McDowell was the hot hand, so the coaches kept feeding him. And it worked.

While he didn’t get a large number of carries the next week against South Carolina State due to the Tigers splitting carries between him, Zac BrooksDJ Howard and CJ Davidson, McDowell proved that Clemson’s running game hasn’t lost a step with him in the backfield. And his productivity has shown that he can handle a good portion of the carries at running back. McDowell is an underrated home run threat, a patient runner inside the tackles, and catches the ball very well out of the backfield. Backup Zac Brooks is a developing talent who worked his way into the No. 2 running back spot, and the former receiver out of Little Rock, Arkansas catches the ball very well out of the backfield and is a tough runner inside the tackles.

As the Tigers enter ACC play against NC State on Thursday, they, as well as the rest of the ACC, must be aware of the threat of McDowell at running back and that defending this Clemson team won’t be as easy as sitting in a two-deep safety shell to prevent the deep ball from quarterback Tajh Boyd. Chad Morris’ offense predicates itself on a strong running game, and thanks to McDowell, Morris’ playbook continues to open wider and wider as the Tigers have more success on the ground and pressure is taken off of Boyd running the football. At the same time, it also opens up the senior quarterback when the Tigers run the zone read, especially in the red zone. The only question people are asking now is whether McDowell will eclipse 1,000 yards. And if the first two games are any indication, 2013 will become Clemson’s third consecutive season with a 1,000 yard rusher.

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