Freshman Running Back Shines in Debut

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON -- On the first play of Saturday’s game against Texas A&M, Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden fulfilled a recruiting promise he made to freshman running back James Davis – he let him get the first carry of the season.

With the game on the line, Davis returned the promise by fulfilling the one he made to running backs coach Burton Burns just before the Tigers game-winning drive. Davis told Burns he wanted the football and if he gave him the opportunity, he would make the most of it.

“He was like ‘OK, you got to do it now,’” Davis said Burns told him. “‘I’m not going to bring you out. If you say you want it, you’ve got to do it.”

Davis responded with eight straight carries, the most for a Tiger running back since 1997, including runs of nine and eight yards to start the 33-yard drive. He also rumbled ahead for four yards on a third down-and-four play that kept the drive alive and pushed Clemson into field goal range.

A few minutes later, Jad Dean made Davis’ hard running pay off by splitting the uprights on a 42-yard field with two seconds left to give the Tigers a 25-24 victory over No. 17 Texas A&M.

“I got motivated from all the other running backs,” said Davis moments after the game. “They said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t fumble the ball.’ That really motivated me.

“My goal is to run for over 100 yards in every game, and I think I did that, but to tell the truth, I’m just happy that we won.”

Bowden said jokingly, since Clemson won the game it was his decision to put Davis in the game, but in all seriousness, he said it was Burns’ decision and he trusted that his running backs coach made the right call.

“He knows those them better and he knows what they’re capable of so I trusted he knew what he was doing,” said Bowden.

Though he trusted and supported Burns’ decision to put the freshman in, Bowden said it was still a tough thing to watch from the sidelines. “I had my eyes closed the whole time,” he said.

Davis finished the night with a game-high 101 yards, the most by a true freshman running back since the late Bobby Gage rushed for 145 yards against Presbyterian in 1945.

Davis showed what the future might hold for the Tigers as soon as the second time he touched the ball. Midway through the first quarter, he broke a run intended to go off right tackle, by bouncing off to the left, where he jolted 33 yards down the left sideline to set up Dean’s first of six field goals.

He finished the evening with 19 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per rush.

Later in the game, after A&M pulled within two points at 19-17, Davis broke off the left tackle for a 21-yard gain. Again, it was the key play in another Tiger scoring drive as Dean booted a 44-yard field goal moments later to make the score 22-17 with 10:41 remaining in the game.

In all, the Clemson running game rushed for 183 yards and along with the offensive line, Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione said Davis was a big reason why the Aggies couldn’t slow the Tigers down.

“He’s going to be a good running back. I was impressed with the way he ran,” Franchione said.

Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence is glad Davis is wearing orange.

“He was impressive tonight,” said Spence. “He really grew up a lot tonight and it can’t do anything but make him better. He’s going to be a great football player for us.”

With Davis’ hard running, and the fact starting quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was on the bench after suffering a head injury, Clemson’s running game controlled the clock for 33 minutes and 39 seconds, the most in the seven years under Bowden.

It is safe to say, Bowden is happy he made Davis that promise last February.

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