Travis Etienne is coming on strong for Clemson and starting to hit his stride as the Tigers focus on accomplishing their next goal – winning the ACC Atlantic Division – and draw closer to their “Championship Phase” of the season.
Following a forgettable performance at North Carolina on Sept. 28, when Etienne rushed for only 67 yards, struggled in pass protection and lost a fumble that led to a UNC touchdown, the junior running back has responded in a big way since Clemson’s bye week.
In the last two games against Florida State and Louisville, Etienne has run for a total of 319 yards on 31 carries, averaging 10.3 yards per rush.
“Proud of him because up at North Carolina, he probably had his toughest day in pass protection,” co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said. “He was really challenged over the open week, and he’s come out the last two weeks and really has put it on the line.”
Etienne needed just 14 carries to rush for 192 yards – the third-highest total of his career — and a touchdown against the Cardinals last Saturday. A week earlier, he tallied 127 yards on the ground against the Seminoles.
After rushing for 205 yards in the season opener against Georgia Tech, Etienne did not run for more than 76 yards in the next four games but has now eclipsed 100 yards in consecutive games for the first time this season.
“Travis is a guy that obviously he got challenged there against North Carolina and got ran over there on a blitz,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. “He’s been a guy, the beginning of the year, he got off to a really good start. But these last two weeks, he’s played extremely well. And Coach Swinney talks all the time, for us to be our best, our best players have to play well. That’s a challenge to everybody, and I really feel like Travis has done a great job with that.”
Etienne admits he lost focus in the week of practice leading up to the UNC game and has made an effort to take full advantage of his opportunities the past two weeks.
Scott believes the reigning ACC Player of the Year has gotten into a groove thanks in part to improving his attention to detail.
“For a guy like Travis, he is so fast and so explosive, sometimes the hardest thing for him is to slow down and to wait for the pulling guard to get in front of him so he can get inside of him and not just get the ball and take off and leave his blockers,” Scott said. “So, just little things like that – or maybe it’s the footwork and the timing of the mesh with the quarterback and how that sets up his blocks and who he’s reading and those type of things.”
During the Louisville game, Etienne (3,205) passed Travis Zachery (3,058) for sixth on Clemson’s all-time rushing list. His 49-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter brought him within four of James Davis’ school record for career rushing touchdowns (47 from 2005-08).
Elliott is seeing Etienne settle into a leadership role on the Tigers’ offense as they get ready for the stretch run of the regular season.
“He had great leadership in Adam Choice last year, and this is a new frontier for him,” Elliott said. “So, being able to play at a high level and lead at a high level, that’s a difficult challenge. Sometimes for him, he’s more comfortable being in the background where all he had to do was focusing on playing at a high level. So, balancing that, managing that… But really proud of him.”
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