In relief of Andre Ellington, who went down with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, Howard carried nine times for a team-high 86 yards in Saturday's 38-24 win over No. 19 Auburn.
"He did a good job stepping in there and running the football," said Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, whose offense ran 92 plays for 624 yards, 238 of which were on the ground.
"We had to have some big runs and he did it. I'm proud of him. he came off the bench and was able to come in and make some big plays for us, and keep that ground game going."
That kind of impact is what Howard had in mind when he was hotly recruited prospect out of Alabama's Lincoln High School.
Originally, it was supposed to be for the Tigers in his home state. The summer before his senior season, Howard committed to Auburn as a running back. But, over time, talk of him playing defensive back brought about a change of heart.
Howard ended up inking with Clemson on national signing day, to play running back.
On Saturday, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said he was proud of the 2010 coup the out of state Tigers pulled in Alabama.
"He ran with some purpose...it's kind of fitting for him to be the leading rusher in this game today," Swinney said.
For Howard, it was business as usual, no matter how things transpired during his recruitment.
"I didn't really have a chip on my shoulder about Auburn, coming in here," he said. "I just came in here and played football."
But it was sweet.
"We came in here and beat the defending champions," Howard said. "Who wouldn't feel good after a win like that?"
Ellington felt good about what he saw from Howard.
"I knew he was a capable of it. He showed me in the spring when I was hurt. Even this fall in practice, in camp, he showed me that he could step up when I'm not in there," Ellington said. "He did that thing out there today. I'm proud of him."
Dwayne Allen was surprised.
"D.J. Howard came out today and was our leading rusher," he said. "Who would have thought it?"
Certainly not Auburn head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Statement game from Howard
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