Rod Gardner: Clemson's Big Play Target

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON, SC - There's a name for players like Clemson wide receiver Rod Gardner. They call him a "go-to guy."

He's the first guy offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez thinks of when it's fourth-and-five on the opposition's 35-yard line. He's the first guy Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler looks at in the huddle when it's time to run the play. In the huddle, Gardner is asking, demanding, the ball from Dantzler.

And after the game he's the guy that reports go-to for quotes.

If Clemson's first game this season against the Citadel didn't tell you that Gardner is still Clemson's go-to guy, then Saturday's game against Missouri should have.

"Anytime we have one-on-one coverage, we look at going to him," said Rodriguez.

On fourth-and-five at Missouri's 38-yard line with just under three minutes in the first half, Gardner ran a slant toward the middle of the field and caught the pass from Dantzler at the 20. Missouri defensive backs Julian Jones and Clarence Jones converged on Gardner. Gardner hit Clarence Jones squared in the chest. He bounced off and started running toward the corner of the end zone.

On the way, he turned and pointed at Julian Jones, who was still in pursuit.

Gardner scored his first touchdown of the season and earned a taunting penalty in the process. Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said Gardner would hear more about the taunting penalty on Sunday, even if he did congratulate him on the play.

"He has to say something," said Gardner. "That's what he has to do. He said I shouldn't have done that. Overall, he said I was having fun and gave me a pat on the butt."

Gardner's attitude isn't the problem, according to Bowden. In fact, he said after last year's Florida State game that he wanted his team to have a swagger, as long as it could back it up. And it's not clear whether the penalty is the problem since Florida State is one of the most penalized teams in the conference. Bowden, publicly at least, has to take the position that what Gardner did on his way to the end zone wasn't the right thing to do -- at least until Clemson is able to consistently back-up any finger pointing that it does, either before or during the game.

The good news for Bowden is that the Gardner's confidence appears to be spreading.

"Give us the ball and we put it in," said Dantzler. "We knew what we were capable of doing, but we still have room for improvement."

When some of Dantzler's comments about the offense were mentioned to Bowden, he said, "I see you've been talking to Rod Gardner again." But it wasn't Gardner this time.

"Now we have to balance the confidence with over-confidence," he said. "Does Rod acknowledge that there's any coaching going on during the game at all? I know Rich calls most of the plays, not Rod Gardner."

That's a tough trick, though, balancing that confidence level. Bowden doesn't want Gardner to lose whatever he's got going for him.

"He's our best guy," he said. "Third-and-five, if your job's on the line, or if it's fourth-and-five and the game is on the line, throw it to Rod Gardner. When we need a play, that's the guy we go to, ala South Carolina (when Garnder caught a 29-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-ten late in the game). That's the type of guy he is. That's one of the reasons he gets it is he shows confidence."

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