The Clemson Tigers have started the 2018 season 3-0 as they continue the journey they hope will take them back to the College Football Playoff.
In this edition of our Up Downs feature, we take a look at which players made a move on Saturday in the Tigers’ game against Georgia Southern and are elevating their game and their position on the depth chart.
We also take a look at which players have fallen down the depth chart due to injury or performance.
Travis Etienne: Last year, Tavien Feaster was the starting running back, and Etienne had an outstanding freshman season. This year, Etienne took over as the first-string back and has clearly separated as “the guy” in the Tigers’ backfield. He has rushed for 269 yards and four touchdowns on 35 carries through three games, including his 162-yard, two-touchdown performance against Georgia Southern. Dabo Swinney has talked a lot about the need to consistently feed the ball to Etienne, who is a threat to score every time he touches it.
Justyn Ross: Ross continued to make his case for more playing time against Georgia Southern as he went off for a game-high 103 yards and a touchdown on just three catches. The former five-star recruit again showcased his unbelievable playmaking ability after the catch with a 57-yard catch-and-run for a score. He had no missed assignments against Georgia Southern and graded out a winner. Jeff Scott said this week that Ross is undoubtedly becoming one of Clemson’s best playmakers on offense and a player that makes the Tigers better offensively, so look for him to see more action moving forward.
Cade Stewart: Stewart made his second consecutive start at guard against Georgia Southern. He is not a player that many thought would be starting before the season, so that says a lot about him. The former Daniel High School standout is dealing with a hip injury, but Swinney said he is getting better.
Denzel Johnson: Clemson’s staff played Johnson in critical moments against Texas A&M in Week 2, when he logged 32 snaps while recording four tackles and a pass breakup. The safety is seeing substantial playing time and coming on strong. The coaches have really bragged about the junior from Columbia.
Xavier Thomas: Thomas provided another glimpse of his immense potential when he easily beat Georgia Southern’s right tackle with a speed rush and brought down the quarterback for his first career sack. Thomas has gained valuable experience early in the season as he learns the craft of being a college defensive end from veterans such as Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. Expect to see more and more of Thomas as the season progresses.
Tanner Muse: Muse has struggled early in the season with several mental lapses on defense. The junior is a talented, physical and hard-nosed safety, but he will have to start executing his assignments if he wants to keep his job, as Johnson (see above) is making a case for more playing time.
Greg Huegel: Huegel missed field goals of 39 and 47 yards against Georgia Southern, while also hitting on a 37-yard field goal. Saturday’s misses were Huegel’s first this season, but he will have to become more consistent or the coaches may want to give Alex Spence more of a look.
Jordan Williams: Williams has been sidelined with an injury for the past two games. As a result, he has missed an opportunity to gain valuable experience. Swinney said Wednesday that Williams is day-to-day right now and did not say whether he will play against Georgia Tech on Saturday.