Maybe the disappointment of this season has begun to weigh on Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler.
The senior quarterback, normally an effervescent sort, didn't have much to say in a telephone interview yesterday. Then again, the Tigers are coming off a 41-27 loss to Florida State, dropping them to 5-3 (3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) heading into Saturday's game against No. 13 Maryland at Byrd Stadium.
"Usually, he's kind of bubbly. ... I'm sure it's taken a psychological toll," said teammate Kyle Young, a second-team All-American at center last season. "It's affected us all. Anyone who's been here five years, you set high goals. Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to meet those goals."
This has been a rougher-than-expected year for the Tigers, who expected to challenge Florida State for the ACC title and instead need Saturday's game to salvage their season.
It will not have been the fault of Dantzler, a senior athletically but a graduate student academically. He has put up eye-popping numbers this season, with 220 passing yards a game to go with 92 rushing yards a game. To become the first quarterback in NCAA Division I-A to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for an additional 1,000, he needs to run for 263 yards and pass for 240 over Clemson's final three games.
Dantzler, an Orangeburg, S.C., native, will be returning to the site of his coming-out party when he plays at Byrd Stadium. In place of injured starter Brandon Streeter in 1999, Dantzler stepped onto the scene and single-handedly dismantled the Terrapins, rushing for 183 yards and passing for 252 during Clemson's 42-30 win.
It wouldn't be the last time Dantzler would put on a one-man show for the Tigers out of the spread offense coordinated first by current West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, and now Brad Scott.
This season, Dantzler has surpassed the 300-yard total offense mark in seven of eight games. The most notable of those performances came Oct. 13, when he passed for 333 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 184 yards and two more touchdowns during a 45-37 win over North Carolina State.
On Sept. 29, he accounted for four touchdowns in his team's 47-44 overtime win over Georgia Tech.
"They had 567 yards, and he had 517," N.C. State coach Chuck Amato said after his team's encounter with Dantzler. "I was fortunate to be around [Florida State Heisman Trophy winner] Charlie Ward. This one's got more ability than Charlie. He's their football team."
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose defensive coaches must devise a plan for Saturday, said nothing to dispel the notion that smothering Dantzler equals smothering Clemson.
"Woody Dantzler is quite a formidable foe," Friedgen said. "He's had an unbelievable season, and he'll be a tough guy for us to stop. That will be something we have to do to win the football game."
Specifically, the key to stopping Dantzler is erasing what makes him special among quarterbacks - his ability to run the ball. Even though he's thrown for 200 yards or more in six of the eight games he has played, Dantzler is known as a running back with passing skills.
In the games that Clemson has lost, he has gained 3.6 yards a carry or less, and North Carolina held him to 116 yards total offense, his lowest total of the year.
Even in the games when he seems to do well, Dantzler - who described himself as "naturally critical" - is looking for ways to get better. In Sunday film sessions, he said: "I see all the bad. I don't see many of the positives. I'm always looking for perfection."
Young said that he has seen Dantzler do "some phenomenal things," suggesting that the quarterback might be better off if he had to carry less of the load.
"He's an explosive player and perhaps we put too much pressure on him," Young said. "We have other weapons we can use."
Senior tailback Travis Zachary is on the verge of reaching the 3,000-yard career rushing mark and 1,000 career receiving yards, and he backs up Bernard Rembert.
But most of the players around Dantzler are players whose best days are ahead of them, like freshman wide-out Derrick Hamilton, who has 44 catches for 518 yards. Unlike last year, the Tigers don't have Rod Gardner - now with the Washington Redskins. So the weight stays on Dantzler.
"It would help us if the other guys were getting long runs or catches like Rod," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "Our top quarterback is our top tailback. We try to get the best guy the ball as much as possible."
The total package
Quarterback Woodrow Dantzler and Clemson come to Byrd Stadium on Saturday. In eight games this season, Dantzler has passed for 1,760 yards and 10 touchdowns, and rushed for 737 yards and nine touchdowns. Three of his top four performances for total yards have come on the road and produced victories:
Passing Rushing Total Date Opponent Result yds., TD yds., TD yds., TD 10/13 @N.C. State W, 45-37 333, 4 184, 2 517, 6
9/29 @Georgia Tech W, 47-44 (OT) 254, 2 164, 2 418, 4
11/3 Florida State L, 41-27 277, 0 59, 2 336, 2
10/27 @Wake Forest W, 21-14 211, 1 119, 1 330, 2