CLEMSON — Daniel Rodriguez stood in the middle of the east end zone hill, waving a giant American flag back and forth, bubbling with excitement.
As his new Clemson teammates grooved back and forth behind him at the top of the hill, it was everything the sophomore walk-on wide receiver could do to not charge down the hill alone.
“I was actually over-anticipating,” Rodriguez said. “ I was ready to come down and they hadn’t fired the cannon yet. I had to stand in the middle and keep myself hyped up.”
It was the beginning of a special day for Rodriguez, who served as an honorary team captain for Clemson’s Military Appreciation Day. The Army veteran earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his action in the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Afghan War.
At the end of the third quarter, Clemson honored U.S. Air Force Captains Michal Polidor and Justin Kulish.
On Oct. 3, 2009, Polidor, Kulish and numerous others came to the aid of Rodriguez’s Army unit . Capt. Polidor spent eight hours flying over the battlefield in an F-15, bombing enemy targets and directing fire on more than 200 Taliban insurgents. His actions, along with those of others, saved countless lives. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. Rodriguez ran across the field and hugged both men as they were introduced to the crowd.
“It was a great honor to be able to do that here at Clemson, just to see the reaction from the crowd, throughout the entire game,” Rodriguez said. “It just really put a cap on everything I was feeling. It was emotional, it was awesome. I couldn’t imagine feeling better.”
Rodriguez grew up a Virginia Tech fan, and Saturday was his late father’s birthday.
“I was as excited as I am any game, but there was more drive and desire for this game,” he said. “You wanted to beat the team you kind of wanted to play for.”
Robinson injured: Junior cornerback Darius Robinson suffered a serious lower left leg injury late in the first quarter. Robinson was defending a Tech pass when his left leg rolled underneath him. He was in serious pain, pounding the turf and throwing his helmet to the ground. Trainers applied an air cast to his entire left leg on the field, and he left on a motorized cart. He began the season as a starter, and didn’t play against Georgia Tech following a second-half benching at Boston College. However, Dabo Swinney praised his effort in practice, likening him to Coty Sensabaugh, who struggled as a junior but persevered and enjoyed a breakout senior year. Sensabaugh was drafted by the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and is in the middle of his rookie year.
Swinney said Robinson’s ankle wasn’t broken, but he suffered “a pretty serious sprain.”
Shuey starts: Junior linebacker Spencer Shuey impressed against Georgia Tech, making a key safety that sparked a fourth-quarter rally. He was rewarded with his first career start Saturday in place of sophomore Stephone Anthony. The former five-star recruit was immediately anointed the defensive leader by new coordinator Brent Venables but has struggled. Shuey had 9.5 tackles, 2.5 for loss, while Anthony had two tackles in limited action.
Shuey said he worked as the starter most of this week and was glad Venables “called my number.”
“I tried to hold my gap down, and whatever plays came my way I tried to make them,” he said. “I messed up a few times. I’ve got to watch film and learn from them.”
Tough Tajh: Tajh Boyd passed for only 160 yards, but he gained 77 total yards rushing before losing 50 on sacks. Under NFL standards, he’d have had 15 carries for 77 yards and two scores. He is the first Clemson quarterback to rush for a touchdown in three straight games since Woody Dantzler in 2001; he’s also the first Tiger QB with a two rushing-score game since Dantzler did so against Florida State in 2001. He suffered a second-half shoulder stinger but shrugged it off, saying he just needed cold-tub time.