2013 Forecast: Big-play Rod McDowell has Clemson in position for history

Clemson running back Roderick McDowell runs for a first down near South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson running back Roderick McDowell runs for a first down near South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

There have been two messages out of Clemson’s camp on the running back spot this fall.

One, expect a more tailback-by-committee approach – and senior Rod McDowell has proven he can lead said committee.

In the shadows his first two years on campus, “Hot Rod” made the most of his six-plus carries a game last season – his 5.4 yards per carry leading the way in the RB corps, scoring five touchdowns.

“Rod McDowell was a guy that was just critical to our success last year,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said recently. “Really had some big moments for us. Was huge in the bowl game for us…He's very confident and just has developed nicely as a player since he arrived at Clemson.”

McDowell, of course, steps into Andre Ellington’s shoes, who played 1,360 snaps over the last two seasons. Ellington averaged a stout 5.5 career yards per carry.

A look at Clemson’s top rusher the last two seasons…

2011: Andre Ellington – 1,178 rushing yards/5.3 yards per carry/11 TDs

2012: Ellington – 1,081 RY/5.1 YPC/8 TDs

The Clemson offense took a step towards a more by-committee approach last season already.

Ellington rushed for a team-best 1,178 yards in 2011, making up 53.1 percent of the team total and 50 percent of the rushing scores (11).

In 2012, Clemson’s rushing production per game went up by nearly 33 yards, but the Moncks Corner native’s impact went down by 9.6 percent in the running game, while Tajh Boyd and McDowell both topped 18 percent of the production.

The rising senior tailback is aiming for a season reminiscent of the outgoing Ellington.

“My target this year is to be a 1,000-yard or more rusher,” he said this spring. “I want to have 10-to-15 touchdowns. I want to contribute on special teams, wherever my team needs me.

“I want to be that player where everyone can count on me, on-and-off the field.”

Projection – Brandon Rink (O&W)

Breakout Season: 1,200 yards – 5.3 YPC – 12 TDs

Bust: 435 yards – 3.9 YPC - 4 TDs

2013 Outlook: 1,029 yards (73.5 per game) - 4.9 YPC - 10 TDs (14 games)

In Clemson stats that go back to 1935, the school has never had three consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. They are very much in line for that particular first this season.

With a build similar to Ellington (5’9 195), the Sumter product brings big play potential that will boost his chances.

McDowell ranked second on the team (and ahead of Ellington) in percentage of 10 or more yard carries (16.9%; 14 total) and led the way in 20-plus attempts percentage (7.1%; 6).

He was a drive-builder in his reserve role last year. Between the 20s, McDowell averaged seven yards per carry with runs of 32, 26 and 27 in the mix. (stats per CFBStats).

Without a clear No. 2 back, he should get the majority of the carries (at least a third) and the track record says he‘ll make plenty of plays with the extra share.

Projection – Marty Coleman (Seldom Used Reserve)

I looked at the historical usage patterns of running backs at Clemson to estimate a number of carries for McDowell. I assumed that McDowell would share the load and not be the primary back like Ellington was in 2012. Ellington played 57% of the snaps and carried the ball 34% of the time he was in the game in 2012 and I expect McDowell’s numbers will be smaller in both categories.

I used McDowell’s career yards per carry and touchdown rate to determine rushing yards and number of touchdowns...McDowell won’t make anyone forget Davis, Spiller and Ellington, but will be a productive runner. Check out more analysis here.

More 2013 Forecasts

Clemson tight ends (Jordan Leggett, Stanton Seckinger, Jay Jay McCullough), QB Tajh Boyd, WR Martavis Bryant.

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