Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell, Sammy Watkins come up big

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Clemson's two big offensive weapons had big games Saturday night against visiting Georgia. Perhaps the Tigers' biggest offensive question had a huge game, too, and Clemson needed all that firepower to hold off Georgia, 38-35.

Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 270 yards and three TDs, and added two rushing touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins had six receptions for 127 yards, including a 77-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. But it was senior running back Roderick "Hot Rod" McDowell, making the first start of his career, who may have been the most important offensive component for the Tigers; he set career-highs by rushing 22 times for 132 yards.

Clemson lost Andre Ellington, last season's leading rusher, and there were questions about whether McDowell could handle the starting job considering his relative lack of experience. It was just the fourth time in McDowell's career that he had double-digit carries -- and the first time with more than 13 -- and the yardage total broke his previous high by 46 yards (he had 86 yards as a redshirt freshman against FCS patsy Presbyterian) in 2010. He ran tough in the middle and also was able to turn the corner against the Bulldogs.

Still, you can't overlook Boyd, who got the best of Georgia counterpart Aaron Murray. Both are seniors and both entered the season in the Heisman conversation. No question that Boyd's name will be mentioned much louder in that conversation this week. Murray threw for 323 yards, but didn't throw a touchdown, did throw a pick and was sacked four times. He scored a rushing TD but also lost a fumble.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris builds in a pass-or-run option on a lot of his plays, and Boyd was masterful in choosing what to do when. While Clemson is known for its high-powered passing attack, the Tigers ran on about 55 percent of their offensive plays last season. Saturday night, the Tigers' run percentage was almost 61 percent as their offensive line controlled the middle of Georgia's rebuilt defensive line.

Boyd guided Clemson to 467 total yards and the Tigers were 7-of-16 on third downs.

While Watkins was the Clemson's receiving star, fellow junior Charone Peake was an effective No. 2 receiver Saturday night, finishing with five receptions for 58 yards. It probably was the best game of his career; he had a seven-catch game against Ball State last season, but for just 44 yards. And Ball State is not Georgia.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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