Prior to the Georgia State game three weeks ago, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said his team needed to do a better job getting Travis Etienne and the rest of the Clemson running game going.
Against Texas A&M in Week 2, Clemson rushed for 115 yards on 32 carries. In the fourth-ranked Tigers’ win over the Aggies, Etienne carried the ball just eight times for 44 yards. Both were season lows.
When Swinney met with his offensive coaches the next week, he made a point to let them know they needed to make the running game more of an emphasis and Etienne needed to be the primary guy in that attack.
Since then, Clemson has averaged 283.3 yards per game on the ground, while Etienne has averaged 162.3 of those yards per game, including a career-high 203 yards in last week’s win over Syracuse. The sophomore has also scored six of his team-high eight rushing touchdowns in the last three games.
“He is special,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “I would not want to trade him for anybody else’s back in the country. I think he is awesome.”
Since Clemson, who will visit Wake Forest on Saturday (3:30 p.m.), made the running game a priority, Etienne has proven to be one of the more special running backs in the country. He ran for 162 yards and scored two touchdowns on just 16 carries against Georgia State and followed that up with 122 yards and another touchdown on 11 carries at Georgia Tech in Week 4.
Then there was last week’s performance. With Trevor Lawrence injured and Kelly Bryant no longer with the team, the Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) literally rode with Etienne and the running game until backup quarterback Chase Brice got his feet wet just enough to make some plays late in the game.
Etienne averaged 7.5 yards per carry against the Orange despite carrying the ball 27 times.
“It is obvious to anyone who was watching the game, just seeing him breaking tackles, he just gets better and better,” Scott said. “Part of it with him, too, he has to learn to stick with some runs. A lot of them he wants to bounce and he can get away with a lot of those, but he is also getting coached up on those third-and-ones to just go hit it and get the first down. Not always looking for the home run, but he is not one we want to slow down a whole lot.
“He is having a great year and we are not surprised because he has worked extremely hard.”
Currently, Etienne ranks second in the ACC and 11th nationally in rushing yards per game, averaging 118.8 yards per game.
“It is easy to block for Travis,” right guard Gage Cervenka said. “He makes it a lot easier because he can run over people. He can break tackles and things like that. He makes it a lot easier for us because if you stay on a guy long enough, he has the speed where he can break away.
“It is fun. It really is just a lot of fun to just be able to cover up a guy and all of a sudden you look up and he is 20 yards down the field. It is phenomenal.”