2014 Discover Orange Bowl
Who: No. 12 Clemson vs. No. 7 Ohio State
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
When: Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Records: Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC); Ohio State (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Last year's result: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 10
CLEMSON - It's not yet within his grasp, but Roderick McDowell is the equivalent of a 5-foot putt away from achieving every running back's goal.
Just 44 yards separate McDowell from giving Clemson its sixth 1,000-yard rusher in the past eight seasons. James Davis had a pair of such campaigns in 2006-07, Andre Ellington did it twice in 2011-12, and C.J. Spiller ran for 1,212 yards in his All-American year of 2009.
From that group, McDowell, with his club foot from childhood and career backup label, would have the odds most severely stacked against reaching quadruple digits out of the backfield.
"It means a lot, knowing the tradition of running backs here," McDowell said, looking fit and trim Monday back on the practice field after a couple weeks' layoff.
"To be in that category . as a question mark coming in, people were like, would we have a 1,000-yard back this year? Me being that person, man, it's a blessing."
Of course, McDowell does need to produce a reasonably decent game Jan. 3 in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State to reach the ledger.
Seeing as the fifth-year senior has topped 44 yards in seven consecutive games (going over 91 four times since Oct. 5, and hitting the 100-yard mark in each of his final two regular season games), McDowell is in prime position.
In fact, this being a test against No. 7 Ohio State, McDowell should be licking his chops. He's averaged 101.3 yards in Clemson's three games against top-10 competition this year.
"That's one thing that's really driving me, because my season's not done. I've still got another game, I still have to go compete," McDowell said. "So being that 1,000 yard-rusher, having that in the bowl game, in a big stage like that against a big opponent, it's a blessing and I'm ready for it."
On the year, McDowell has carried 177 times for 956 yards (5.4 yards per carry; better than Davis' and Ellington's averages during each of their 1,000-yard seasons) and five touchdowns, all in the Tigers' last five games.
Heading into bowl season, McDowell checks in at third place on the ACC rushing list, trailing Heisman finalist Andre Williams of Boston College (2,102 yards) and Virginia's Kevin Parks (1,031 yards) while leading Florida State's Devonta Freeman by 13 yards.
"I can't take all the praise. I really got to give it to my offensive line," McDowell said. "(OL) coach (Robbie) Caldwell, BT (Brandon Thomas), (Tyler) Shatley, all them boys worked hard for me this year. They really separated the line of scrimmage, made me run faster through the holes."
McDowell received little fanfare for his most recent effort - 111 yards and a score on 14 attempts, the Tigers' most prolific rusher vs. South Carolina in six years - due to the Gamecocks claiming their fifth straight series victory.
"I felt like I gave my all, but we came up short. That game means a lot to me, knowing for a fact I had a good game, but my good game didn't get us a W," McDowell said. "I watched film, and was very disappointed in the outcome. But it's a whole other game. Right now, I'm just focused on OSU."
For reinforcement, McDowell turns to Ellington, now a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals having his own breakout season in the NFL. A reserve to start the season, Ellington has 558 yards on 94 carries, good for a league-leading 5.9 yards per rush.
McDowell and Ellington still text frequently.
"For him to say he's proud of me, that really means a lot, because I idolized him when he was here," McDowell said. "I still idolize him in the league right now."
McDowell texted Ellington Sunday after his 158-total yard effort in Arizona's overtime victory at Tennessee with congratulations, a message that was reciprocated.
"He said, 'from Clemson, that's what we do. We're ballplayers. We're game changers.' I feel the same way," McDowell said. "Even though people think I'm that pound-and-pound back, I'm a game changer."
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