Monday Morning Quarterback
From 2006-’08, James Davis and C.J. Spiller were one of the best running back tandems in the country.
In 2006, Spiller’s freshman year, the two combined to help Clemson run for 217.8 yards per game … the third best rushing total by a Clemson team in the last 22 seasons.
Davis rushed for 1,187 yards and tied a single-season record with 17 rushing touchdowns, while Spiller was not too far behind, running for 938 yards and 10 touchdowns.
They were called Thunder & Lightning, and they were fun to watch.
In their three seasons together, Davis and Spiller combined for 5,337 rushing yards and 58 touchdowns, the most productive pair of ball carriers in the history of Clemson football.
Though it is more like Lightning & Lightning than Thunder & Lighting, Clemson’s newest tandem has an opportunity to be just as explosive, if not more.
Of course, I’m talking about running backs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne. The two have the speed Spiller had, but they also have the power and strength, to a certain extent, as Davis as well.
Last year, the two combined for 1,435 yards and 20 touchdowns, the best season by two Clemson running backs since Davis and Spiller ran for 1,832 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2007.
Of course Davis’ and Spiller’s 2,125 combined yards and 27 touchdowns in 2006 is the standard for a tandem of running backs at Clemson. However, it does not mean Feaster and Etienne do not have the potential to break it.
However, can they build off of last year’s success and get better both individually and together at the same time?
Spiller has not had the opportunity to talk to them about the dynamics of sharing a backfield and trying to improve at the same time, but he is hopeful he will get that chance.
“They are both coming off successful seasons,” Spiller said. “How do you handle that moving forward, especially for Travis? Teams have had a whole summer to prepare for him. How do you counter that?”
Last year, Etienne led the Tigers in rushing, though he did not start a single game. He ran for 766 yards on 107 carries, while averaging 7.2 yards per carry and a freshman record 13 rushing touchdowns.
However, teams got wise to Clemson and figured out when Etienne was on the field, he likely was getting the ball because of his limited skills in pass protection. Etienne spent all spring trying to get better in this area.
As for Feaster, he has some work to do in pass pro as well. Last year, he rushed for 669 yards on 107 carries and scored 7 touchdowns. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Though his pass protection was much better, as was his overall blocking, running backs coach Tony Elliott wants to see the junior trim down a little, especially up top.
“Teams know he is a very explosive runner,” Spiller said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield. How do you make defenders miss in the open field? It is just those little things that can help your game get a whole lot better.”
Though he feels their college career is in great hands with Elliott, Spiller says he is always willing to talk to either one of them or both if they need some advice on how to handle sharing a backfield or on anything.
“I think those guys are great running backs and Coach Elliott is a great running backs coach and he will do what he has to do to make sure they are ready,” Spiller said. “I always tell them that I am here. My services are always open. I don’t want anything. I’m just here to help you and want you to be successful.”
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