Kick-start to a good ending

CLEMSON - While the result of the game certainly stunk, Roderick McDowell's Orange Bowl experience laid the foundation for what's been a solid end to his Clemson career.

Clemson took possession of the ball on the West Virginia 39-yardline with 2:56 left to play. The Mountaineers led, 70-26.

First-down: 11-yard rush by McDowell.

First-down: 15-yard rush by McDowell.

First-down: 4-yard rush by McDowell.

Cole Stoudt threw passes on the next two downs, completing the second for 5 yards to the West Virginia 4-yardline.

Fourth-and-1: 4-yard touchdown run by McDowell.

Those were his only six plays of the game.

"I was upset because we lost," McDowell said. "I told myself, if we get the ball, I'm going to score a touchdown. That next play I get in, I want to score a touchdown. So, when I scored, I told myself, next year is the year, and it built up to that."

Those six plays did wonders for his self-confidence.

"I told myself, don't give up. Even though we lost the game, this touchdown, in the bowl game on a big stage like this, it really means a lot," McDowell said. "Just take the motivation you get and work in the offseason, work on your skills. That's what I took into the offseason."

McDowell finished the next season with 450 yards and five touchdowns on 83 carries. So far, in 2013, he's got 956 yards and five scores on 177 carries.

And Clemson has won a whole bunch of games since that embarrassing loss to the Mountaineers -- 21, to be exact.

"Our program, we're used to winning. Coach [Dabo] Swinney, when he got the job, he told us that change was coming, it's time to win. And that's what we're doing," McDowell said. "When you get accustomed to winning games, playing big-time opponents, playing in the Orange Bowl, we know what to expect from the coaches.

"Everybody is on the same page. When you've got everybody on the same page, you expect to win and play hard."

That's good news for Clemson fans who want their Tigers to win a second-straight bowl game.

"I think what's different for us from last time, we know how it felt. Now that we've lost the Orange Bowl when we went there, we know how it feels to get there," McDowell said. "Now, we're back. We're just trying to come away with the win."

Stay level. That's key.

"You can't get overwhelmed and over-hyped, because, at the end of the day, if you start thinking ahead, you may end up falling short," McDowell said. "The only thing about this team, we're focused on one game at a time, one play at a time, one series at a time. Honestly, I'm just going there to play ball. Don't get overwhelmed."

With a strong group of senior leaders, Clemson could come away with a much better result than they got on their last trip to Miami. McDowell is certainly among that group.

"I feel like my legacy is going to be a dude that fought," he said. "When the odds were down, he didn't give up. At the end of the day, he got his degree. At the end of the day, it's more than just football. It's about building a foundation and helping other people. That's what I want people to see me as."

A win over Ohio State would help shape that legacy, too.

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