Clemson’s Woodrow Dantzler sets up five yards behind the line of scrimmage to take a shotgun snap, just as any other quarterback would. Once he gets the ball, though, he’s anything but ordinary.
With a strong arm and fast feet, Dantzler is a menace to opposing defenses. On some plays, he is a standard, mostly one-dimensional passing quarterback, but on others he tucks the ball under his arm and bolts out of the backfield like a tailback.
It is this dimension that makes Dantzler a one-of-a-kind player, said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. While at Tulane three years ago, Bowden ran more of a pro-style offense with current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Shaun King at quarterback. With Dantzler, Bowden has built his attack around his quarterback’s skills, and with good reason he can do what very few quarterbacks can.
Other athletic quarterbacks may be adept at running the option or scrambling when forced from the pocket in passing situations. Dantzler thrives on designed traps and draws in which he trades his passing arm for a stiff arm and takes off up the field.
“We use him in unique ways,” Bowden said. “We call tailback plays, not rollouts and bootlegs. He has tailback vision; he’s not an option quarterback.”
This threat has the Maryland Terrapins’ defense bracing for an onslaught when it faces Dantzler and the Tigers tomorrow at Byrd Stadium. Dantzler rolled up 435 yards of total offense (252 passing, 183 rushing) in Clemson’s 42-30 victory the last time he visited as a sophomore in 1999. Last season against the Terps, Dantzler’s numbers were less gaudy but still impressive as he rushed for 87 yards and two scores and threw for 186 yards in a 35-14 victory at Clemson.
Dantzler’s Heisman Trophy candidacy may have fizzled with a 38-3 loss to North Carolina on Oct. 20, but he is still one of the top offensive threats in the country.
“He can run, he can throw, he can cause a lot of problems for us trying to get a good game plan together to try to stop him,” said Maryland senior safety Tony Jackson. “No [quarterback] in the conference runs or has the ability to run like he does. He’s just like another tailback out there.”
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said Dantzler can be attacked a number of ways, by rushing anywhere from three to five linemen, or using a “spy” on him. Whichever the Terps choose, it’s not going to be easy to control the first ACC player to pass for 4,000 yards and run for 2,000 in a career.
If teams don’t slow down Dantzler initially, he can get on a roll. Bowden employs a quick-huddle offense that gets to the line of scrimmage in a hurry and, if it racks up a string of first downs, can keep a defense on its heels. Actually, Maryland’s best defense might be its offense, which could minimize Dantzler’s damage with ball control.
“You need to keep him on the sideline,” said Rick “Doc” Walker, who has broadcast ACC football for the last five years for Jefferson Pilot Sports. “You can’t beat Clemson with him on the field. You have to control the tempo.”
Dantzler had the services of Washington Redskins first-round draft pick Rod Gardner last season, but Clemson has had a rash of injuries at wide receiver this season and two of the Tigers’ top four receivers are freshmen. Still, Dantzler has a chance to become the first player ever to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a regular season. He enters tomorrow’s game with 1,760 passing and a team-high 737 rushing yards.
Said Dantzler, who thinks of himself as a combination of Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham: “It’s been a pretty good year for me.”
Dantzler can make it better by leading the unranked Tigers (5-3, 3-3 ACC), who were expected to challenge for the conference title, to victories in their last three games.
“Woody’s throwing the ball better than I’ve ever seen him. He’s had some incredible games this year,” Friedgen said. “Who’s going to match up with him in the open field? It creates tremendous stress on your defense.”