Howard gets the call

CLEMSON - D.J. Howard will make his first career start Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. What will it mean for Clemson's high-powered offense? CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott takes a closer look.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney revealed Thursday evening after practice what was suspected all week long: Andre Ellington isn't 100 percent.

"I think he'll be a game time decision, as far as just how sudden he is and explosive he is during warmups on Saturday night," Swinney said.

Officially, the redshirt junior, who suffered a pulled hamstring earlier this season, is listed as "questionable," but this time it's an ankle injury holding him back.

Enter D.J. Howard.

The redshirt freshman will make his first career start Saturday evening against the Yellow Jackets, and it couldn't come at a more important time.

With the Tigers 8-0 and holding on to the No. 5 spot in the BCS rankings, everything is on the line.

Howard will also face a Georgia Tech defense that seemingly dares opposing offenses to run the ball - sometimes dropping as many as eight defenders into coverage.

For the season, he has just 25 carries for 167 yards and one touchdown. But he was the surprising leading rusher in Clemson's 38-24 win over nationally-ranked Auburn earlier this season.

While a hamstring injury kept him out of action shortly after that strong showing, Howard is healthy now, and he'll be needed in a big way as a result.

With Ellington potentially out of the mix, Howard's ability to break tackles will be critical. In limited action this season, the Alabama native has shown he generally doesn't go down with the first hit.

He's also a patient runner, allowing his blockers to pave the way before he makes his cut.


Mike Bellamy is Clemson's second-leading rusher this year and should see an increased role Saturday as well. (Roy Philpott)
While Clemson loses explosiveness and experience with Ellington, it gains some size and determination with Howard.

Keep in mind, Georgia Tech's strength this year has been against the pass, where it ranks eighth in the country entering Saturday night's game.

Against the run, it's been an entirely different story. The Yellow Jackets are 77th in the nation, giving up 170 yards per contest.

That means the Tigers will have wider running lanes than what was seen against North Carolina's talented front-four a week ago.

And that puts the spotlight even more on D.J. Howard.

True freshman Mike Bellamy will also shoulder more of the load if Ellington can't go.

Bellamy was one of the most sought after running backs in the country from the high school ranks a year ago, and has proven to be one of the most explosive players for the Tigers this year.

But he's also had problems grasping the offense and holding onto the football, too.

Regardless, he'll likely see the most carries he has all season long as well - which makes for even more drama Saturday night in Atlanta in limited action.

He had a 31-yard touchdown to seal the win at No. 11 Virginia Tech, and also scored from 85 yards out on his first touch from scrimmage against Troy.

"It's just the way it is," Swinney said. "D.J. went in against the leading rusher against Auburn. It was the first game he really played.

"Mike's had some big moments. You go up there to Virginia Tech and he seals the deal. I have a lot of confidence in them."

And hopefully that confidence helps translate into another strong showing by Clemson's offense, too.

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