CLEMSON – Saturday’s performance was a long time coming for junior Tigers running back D.J. Howard.
His first touch was an off-the-mark swing pass from Tajh Boyd, where he recovered, outran a Wake Forest linebacker to the edge and juked another Deacs defender to coast the final 60 of his 75 yards to the endzone. It was his first career TD reception.
D.J. Howard is back
“I looked the ball in and knew I had to make at least one defender miss,” Howard said, “and once I made him miss I just started smiling because I knew it was (a) touchdown.”
He went on to total a career-high 120 all-purpose yards. He had 171 yards in all of an injury-plagued 2012 campaign.
“That’s D.J. Howard you saw Saturday,” Howard said. “Focused and ready to play and taking advantage of his opportunities. That’s who that was.
“It was a feeling of, ‘Okay, he’s getting back to his old self. He’s having fun, relaxed and confident. No pressure.’”
Howard is second only to Rod McDowell among the Tiger running backs in carries (23), averaging 4.5 yards per attempt with a touchdown.
As a freshman in 2011, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry, which included a career-best 86 rushing yards against a school he had previously pledged to (Auburn).
“Obviously D.J. Howard had his best game in two years and he can’t wait two more years to have a game like that,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “He needs to put some consistency together. I’m very proud of his effort.”
His coming on couldn’t work out much better for the Tigers with McDowell’s slow progress from an ankle injury sustained three drives in against Wake Forest.
Morris says McDowell has been walking around, but it’s a “wait and see process” on his full-go status.
Saturday, outside of Boyd, Daniel product C.J. Davidson had the most carries (9) for 25 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Zac Brooks is another main option, who’s averaged 4.8 yards a carry.
Boundary receiver seeing some competition: Due to suspension, junior receiver Martavis Bryant sat the first half against Wake Forest, which gave Morris and co. a look at the future of the boundary “9” position – true freshman Mike Williams.
The 6-3 205 Lake Marion got the start and hauled in his first career touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Tajh Boyd in the third quarter of the 56-7 win.
“He’s playing with some great confidence right now. He’s a guy that’s going to be a really great player for us in due time,” his offensive coordinator said. “Playing a freshman like him, he’s going to make some mistakes. He has to continue to push.”
And Morris says Bryant, who holds the Tigers’ top yards per reception average (15.8), is now feeling some heat.
“I think they’re battling,” Morris said. “I think they’ve got a good competition going on. That’s what we need. I think Martavis needs it and I think Mike needs it.”
ACC off to a strong, historic start: Led by the Tigers at No. 3, four ACC teams were ranked in the latest AP top-25, which also included Florida State (No. 8), Miami (No. 14) and Maryland (No. 25).
Combined, they give the conference its first-ever quartet of 4-0 teams.
Boyd was back from first read vs. Wake
Defense has marked the early season efforts, as four ACC teams are in the top-10 nationally in total defense (Virginia Tech, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Miami) and nine of the 14-member league are in the top-40 (Clemson and Syracuse in that mix).
Offensively, five of the top-25 in red zone touchdown percentage are in the conference (led by Clemson’s 83.3 at No. 4), which only the Big Ten matches.
After the S.C. State postgame press conference, Dabo Swinney threw up the “U” hand sign due to Miami’s win over Florida, but the conference pride ends just about there for the Tigers.
“In the end, we could really care less about everybody else,” Morris said. “We’re glad they’re having success, but we’re focused on Clemson.”
Clemson-B.C. kickoff announced: The ACC announced Monday Clemson and Boston College will kick off at 3:30 on Oct. 12 with ABC, ESPN2 or ESPNU as the TV outlet (to be determined on Sunday). It’s the second-straight season the Tigers haven’t had a true noon start in the first three home games, which was a staple of the previous four years.