ATLANTA — Second-ranked Clemson continued its strong start to the season as the Tigers defeated Georgia Tech, 49-21, on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Coming into the game, the Georgia Tech offense led the nation in rushing, averaging 392 yards per game. However, it was the Tigers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) who would show up on the ground Saturday as they ran for 248 yards in comparison to Tech’s 146.
Of the Clemson running backs, it was Travis Etienne who led the way for the Tigers. The sophomore rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries while averaging 11.1 yards per carry.
“The last few weeks Etienne has just found a way to make a play,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said. “He was running hard, even when things aren’t there. He’s a great back and he finds a way to make plays, but it’s not just him. We’ve got guys on the perimeter blocking well.”
While the Clemson offense was getting it done on the ground, Trevor Lawrence was able to get momentum together and lead the team down the field on multiple occasions. The freshman quarterback finished 13-of-18 passing for 176 yards and four touchdowns, guiding the Tigers on five of their six touchdown drives.
With the run game as strong as it was, it opened up a lot of opportunities for the offense in the play-action game.
“I think more so than anything, when we can run the football it opens up the play-action pass,” Elliot said. “Especially versus the last few defenses, where they’ve got seven guys in the box and we still find a way to run it when we do hand it off. When you’ve got a seventh defender they’ve got to figure out how they’re going to cover the football and it gives you seams to pass the ball.”
While Etienne led the backfield, he wasn’t the only running back on the roster to have a big day. Junior running back Tavien Feaster had a great day on the ground with eight carries for 75 yards and a touchdown. Like Etienne, he boasted a large yards-per-carry average, averaging 9.4 yards an attempt.
“I was really proud of him (Feaster),” Elliott said. “He’s a guy that’s just been battling and trying to find his rhythm. Today, especially on that touchdown run, I think we saw a burst that we all knew he was capable of. That’s big for his confidence. I think he rushed for about nine yards a carry and a lot of that was after contact as well.
“I’m proud of him and I’m proud of Travis. Also Adam (Choice) coming in between those guys and making some plays. We’ve got a great group, we’ve just got to stay humble, knowing that every week we’ve got to show up. Obviously too from my perspective knowing the details of the offense, we’ve still got some things without the ball that we need to work on.”
While the running backs were able to do their job on the ground, none of it would have been possible without the performance of the offensive line. Throughout the game, the line was able to create gaps and reach the second level blocking, resulting in the rushing performance put forth.
“From just looking at it, you’d say yes this is the best the offensive line has played,” Elliott said. “We’ve still got to go back and watch the tape and look at all the details. Those guys were challenged. We want to be able to run the football and in the first half we only had 50 yards rushing. A lot of that we didn’t get a lot of rhythm and we had a three-and-out.
“Then we were able to find some explosive plays. We knew that when we came out in the second half we were going to commit to running the ball. I thought there were some big running lanes. I thought the running backs did a great job of finding them as well. We’ll look at the tape and see how those guys truly performed.”
The Tigers will next be seen Saturday, Sept. 29 at Death Valley in Clemson. The team will face a 4-0 Syracuse team that delivered the Tigers their only regular season loss last season.