When Clemson ran for 471 yards in last week’s 60-point win at Wake Forest, the Tigers were just able to hat them up. In other words, No. 4 Clemson just ran the ball down the Demon Deacons’ throat.
Wake Forest was playing a lot of coverage with their safeties and tried to use them in run support late, primarily due to being concerned with wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross.
Knowing this, Clemson just ran the ball at will as Travis Etienne rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns, Lyn-J Dixon rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns and Adam Choice rushed for 128 yards and one touchdown. It marked the first time in 12 years Clemson had three running backs run for 100 or more yards in the same game.
In all, the Tigers had five rushing touchdowns of 50 or more yards, a new school record.
“I will go back to what I told everybody in preseason camp, our running backs are going to be special,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think they are going to be as good as any in the country. That is what I see. I think our running backs are as good as anyone out there.
“It is a great comfort zone to know that you can hand it off and force the issue.”
Clemson (6-0, 3-0 ACC) forced the issue against Syracuse. With quarterback Trevor Lawrence injured and backup Chase Brice trying to find a rhythm, Swinney decided to just hand the ball off to Etienne, Choice and Tavien Feaster.
Knowing the run was coming and loading the box to stop it, the Orange could not slow it down as the Tigers rushed for 293 yards. Etienne rushed for a career-high 203 yards and scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 41 seconds to play.
“We just forced the issue and we did not have good numbers to run the ball, but our backs made us right,” Swinney said. “They made guys miss. They made unblocked guys miss. So, that is a huge, huge thing for us because of the play-action game, our ability to manipulate the defense with the action game has led to some explosive plays.”
Clemson is averaging 280.1 yards per game on the ground, which is ranked fifth in the country. Right now, the Tigers are on a pace to rush for the most yards in a single-season since the 1978 team averaged 289.1 yards per game.
“Eventually, people are going to load up and stop the run because people respect it. Then you get some matchups,” Swinney said. “We like our matchups and we like our quarterback. We got a guy that can absolutely rip it.”
Lawrence ripped a 55-yard touchdown to Ross and then later a 20-yard touchdown to Higgins against Wake Forest, both plays coming on third-and-long. The freshman finished the afternoon 20-of-25 for 175 yards.
“They were just bullets and he did not flinch,” Swinney said.
And Clemson’s running game is just rolling along.