The Clemson Tigers have started the 2018 season with a 5-0 record 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 the players that made a move last Saturday in the Tigers’ win over Syracuse and are elevating their game and/or position on the depth chart.
We also take a look at which players have fallen down the depth chart due to injury, performance, etc.
Xavier Thomas: Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during his press conference Tuesday that Thomas has “taken off like a rocket ship.” The true freshman recorded his first career sack two weeks ago against Georgia Southern, then logged four tackles at Georgia Tech. But he really made his presence felt against Syracuse during Clemson’s final defensive stand that sealed the win, demolishing Eric Dungey for a sack on first down and hitting the quarterback on two other plays. Swinney said that Thomas needs to get more reps, and the former five-star prospect has clearly shown that he deserves to be on the field in pass-rush situations.
Chase Brice: Swinney has said since the spring that he believed Clemson could win with Brice, and Brice proved that to be the case Saturday. Filling in for Trevor Lawrence after he suffered an injury late in the first half, Brice completed 7-of-13 passes for 83 yards and helped the Tigers overcome a 16-7 halftime deficit to earn the victory and stay undefeated. The redshirt freshman made some big throws for Clemson, including, of course, his critical 20-yard completion to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-6 during the game-winning drive. Lawrence is expected to play at Wake Forest, but Clemson is lucky to have a capable backup in Brice who will be ready to fill in again if needed.
Travis Etienne: Etienne ravaged Syracuse’s defense for a career-high 203 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It marked the sophomore’s third straight game with at least 100 rushing yards and one touchdown, and he has scored at least one touchdown in each of the Tigers’ five games this season. Etienne has 594 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns on the year, marks that rank seventh and tied for fourth in the country, respectively. Etienne seems to get better every week and continues to separate as Clemson’s No. 1 running back.
Tavien Feaster: Feaster followed up his 75-yard, one-touchdown effort at Georgia Tech with nine carries for 44 yards (4.9 average) against Syracuse. The junior had an 11-yard rush to the Syracuse 5-yard line on Clemson’s final drive that set up Etienne’s game-winning score two plays later. Feaster has run the ball hard when called upon, but more importantly, he has been a big asset for the Tigers in pass protection. His ability to pick up blitzers off the edge gave Brice extra time to throw the ball on a couple of occasions against Syracuse, and the coaching staff loves to have him on the field in obvious passing situations. Etienne grabs most of the headlines in Clemson’s backfield — for good reason — but Feaster remains a well-rounded and important part of the offense.
Gage Cervenka: Cervenka is one of six Clemson offensive linemen that graded out as a winner in the win over Syracuse. Cervenka played 58 snaps, seeing action at guard after Sean Pollard was forced to slide over to tackle with Tremayne Anchrum out of the game. Aside from what could have been a costly false start penalty on Clemson’s game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, Cervenka played very well.
Kendall Joseph: A week after missing the Georgia Tech game with a groin injury, Joseph was on the field for 62 snaps vs. Syracuse. The senior led Clemson’s defense with 12 total tackles, including eight solo tackles, and is now tied for third on the team with 23 total tackles through five games.
Greg Huegel: Huegel was unable to convert on a 47-yard field goal attempt against Syracuse, his third miss of the season in eight attempts. The senior coming off an ACL tear last year is just 2-of-4 on field goal tries of 40-plus yards. The door of opportunity might start to open up for backup kicker Alex Spence if Huegel’s struggles from long distance continue.
Cade Stewart: Stewart played 29 snaps against Syracuse, struggling in pass protection. The Tigers allowed four sacks, two of which were due to Stewart. Meanwhile, Cervenka stepped up at right guard and did a solid job.
Mark Fields: Fields missed the Syracuse game to a disciplinary reason. The senior let his team down by not being on the field, especially considering that the Tigers lack depth at cornerback, though freshman Kyler McMichael played well in his absence. Fields is expected to be back for the Wake Forest game.
Cornell Powell: Powell did not play against Syracuse, either, due to an academic issue. His status remains in question moving forward, and Swinney said recently that the situation is out of his control.