From the outside, Zac Brooks' freshman season looked to shaping up as a bust.
Of all the first-year freshmen Clemson chose to play this season, Brooks' had played the least through the Tigers' first eight games. He had six carries against Ball State and seven against Furman, and hadn't touched the ball since.
He went four games without getting a snap from scrimmage, and then played two snaps, but didn't carry the football, against Wake Forest.
Saturday against Duke, Brooks' fortunes took an upturn. Andre Ellington's first-play hamstring tweak put D.J. Howard and Rod McDowell in the backfield spotlight; and after the two reserve running backs helped chew up the Blue Devils' defense as Clemson built a comfortable lead, Brooks got his long-awaited opportunity.
He didn't disappoint.
The freshman from Jonesboro, Ark., who was recruited for his versatility as a hard-running, pass-catch back in Chad Morris' offense, rushed for 67 yards on 12 carries and contributed to a 339-yard effort that saw four different Tigers rush for 65 yards or more.
McDowell led the running backs group with 13 carries for 83 yards, while Howard added in 65 yards in 13 attempts. Clemson got another 110 rushing yards from the quarterback position, including 72 yards on nine carries by Tajh Boyd.
As a team, the Tigers rushed the ball 52 times, threw it 29 times, and averaged 6.5 yards per rushing attempt.
"It was great to see D.J. and Hot Rod and Zac Brooks get in there," said Dabo Swinney. "Both (Howard and McDowell) made plays in critical situations, and then Zac came in and showed what he's capable of doing.
"It was next-man-up, no drop-off - the standard is the same."
Swinney said Brooks has made steady progress on the practice field this fall, and was ready when his name was called.
"I know he hasn't had as much opportunity, but he's improved all year," Swinney said. "Another year in the weight room and he could be a powerful runner for us."