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Woodied! Dantzler chops down Cav defense

If you were unsure about the Clemson offense, Woody Dantzler or the Tigers' dreams of an ACC title, you're singing a different tune now.

Sure, Dantzler, a quarterback no less, led the ACC in rushing before Clemson visited Virginia Saturday. The Tigers had the nation's second-ranked offense, but you could say they racked those numbers up against paltry competition. Unless the Cavs are in the same group as Missouri, The Citadel and Wake Forest, Dantzler and the Tigers are for real.

Dantzler rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. That's 12.2 yards a carry if you're scoring at home. He almost doubled Virginia's team total of 111 rushing yards.

"The thing we said from the beginning was don't let them run the ball," Virginia coach George Welsh said. "Especially with the quarterback. The other guy's going to make six or seven here, but Dantzler's the guy that's been making the long runs."

Dantlzer broke the Cavs' backs with two of those long runs in the second half, one a 75-yarder on the Tigers' first play of the second half and the other a 45-yard run two possessions later. The Tigers also gained 14 of their 20 first downs on the ground, seven on runs by the junior quarterback.

"We had him, but he just got out," Virginia cornerback Tim Spruill said. "He's a spectacular player and he's going to break a few tackles. We just need to hold on and wait for everyone else to come."

On the 75-yard touchdown run, Dantzler showed off the full range of his skills. He dropped back to pass, then ran out of the pocket on the right side and eluded would-be tackler Byron Thweatt. He then accelerated to the right sideline, picked up a block downfield and cut back across the turf to reach the end zone untouched.

With his fast feet and strong arm, Dantzler is a good enough an athlete to excel in a conventional offense. But Clemson coach Tommy Bowden turned Dantzler into the most dangerous quarterback in the ACC by retooling his attack to fit his elusive quarterback. Last season, Clemson used a balanced offense behind drop-back passer Brandon Streeter. Through four games, the Tigers have rushed 154 times and passed 144 times. But look at Dantler take off on one of his sprints to the end zone, and you'll see why Bowden has moved to a run-heavy attack, calling 207 rushing play to 103 passing plays.

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    Bowden's system gives Dantzler the creativity and freedom to fake a handoff, then drop back and pass or run off tackle. He forces defenses to keep more men in on run coverage and creates the potential for big passing plays, like the 30-yard touchdown pass Dantzler threw to Jackie Robinson in the second quarter.

    This isn't the first time Bowden has tailored his game to suit an athletic quarterback. At Tulane, Bowden attempted to make Shaun King a star, and King responded well enough to record one of the best seasons in NCAA history in 1998. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him in the second round in 1999 and he's been their starting quarterback since the middle of last season.

    Clemson's offense also works because Dantzler's receivers contribute to his rushing exploits. Though Robinson weighs in at only 190 pounds, Matt Bailey and Justin Watts are 210 and Rod Gardner is 215. All are ready to block for Dantzler downfield at the drop of a hat.

    "In the hole, [Dantzler]'s patient," Virginia linebacker Donny Green said. "When he's running the ball, he's got guys surrounding him trying to take his head off, and he's running behind his blockers and he knows how to set guys up."

    If Dantzler has another performance like this one on national television, you can be sure the Heisman hype will begin and the comparisons will start rolling in. Virginia Tech's Michael Vick is the first logical target. However, Bowden was quick to downplay any similarities that Dantzler might have with Vick.

    "Michael Vick can eat pancakes off of Woody's head," Bowden said. Dantzler "is not as big, not as fast and not as quick. Other than that they look a lot alike. He's just as productive, probably more productive because we feature him. [Virginia Tech] runs [Vick] more out of the I-formation. But somebody needs to start paying attention to what is being done because ... this guy is performing at a higher level."

    Despite Dantzler's impressive stats Saturday, Virginia players said they are confident that games against Vick and North Carolina's Ronald Curry, two other quarterbacks who can run as well as they can pass, won't be repeat performances. Whether they're right remains to be seen.

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