On Saturday in second-ranked Clemson’s 54-0 win over Syracuse, freshman running back Tavien Feaster entered the game earlier than he has all season and finished second on the team behind Wayne Gallman in total carries with nine.
It was the first time since Clemson’s game at Boston College on Oct. 7 that Feaster has seen action at running back, and just the third game overall this season in which he has run the ball.
Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott cited more consistency from Feaster in practice, better technique, improvement in pass protection and an increased understanding of the offense as reasons why he earned more opportunities against the Orange.
“I think just seeing more consistency in practice of the little things,” Elliott said on Monday. “You’re just seeing a lot more confidence and a lot more attention to detail the last couple weeks.”
During Clemson’s fifth drive of the contest that began at the 12:16 mark of the second quarter, Feaster recorded three carries for 25 yards, helping the Tigers move down the field and eventually take a 23-0 lead on Deshaun Watson’s touchdown pass to Mike Williams.
Overall, Feaster finished with 28 yards rushing. Were it not for a loss of seven yards on one of his runs in the fourth quarter, Feaster would have averaged over four yards per attempt.
“Kind of unfortunate, that last little deal,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “With all of our backups there, we called a play, and they didn’t really know what to do. Those guys have been over on the scout team, and that was on us.”
“He’s improved all year long,” Swinney added, “and we had a good opportunity within the flow of the game to get those guys in there. We were in rhythm and sync, so it was a natural flow for us.”
For Feaster, the issue has never been talent. The former blue-chip recruit from Spartanburg has gained 167 yards on 25 carries this season for an average of 6.7 yards.
Elliott said the biggest shortcomings of Feaster early on were his footwork, physicality in pass protection and understanding of the offense’s terminology and blocking schemes up front.
As a result, Feaster became buried on the depth chart at running back. But now, thanks to progress in those areas, it appears Feaster is gaining more trust of the coaching staff.
“The biggest thing early on was the footwork and consistency in technique,” Elliott said. “Obviously this is the college level and everything happens fast, the windows in the running game are very small at times.
“That’s what you saw him do is get committed to his technique, and he’s really understanding what we’re trying to do. So, he’s fighting his way up the depth chart.”