SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When third-ranked Clemson took down NC State rather easily in Raleigh, North Carolina on Nov. 9, ESPN play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler called running back Travis Etienne the best running back in the country following an 8-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The touchdown was Etienne’s third of the night, as he finished the game with 112 yards on just 14 carries.
Since Fowler’s claim, the junior running back rushed for 121 yards against Wake Forest and 114 yards against Virginia in the ACC Championship Game. In total, he went over the 100-yard mark seven times in the Tigers’ previous eight games and eight times total this season.
Etienne also rushed for 200 or more yards on two separate occasions in 2019, the only Clemson player to record two 200-yard rushing games in a season. His is also the only Tiger running back or quarterback to gain 200-plus yards three different times in his career.
“I do think he is the best running back in the country,” Fowler said Friday while previewing Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl game between Clemson and No. 2 Ohio State. “I think it is hard to judge a guy that has carried it six times in the fourth quarter and has never really had to dig deep.”
As Fowler said, Etienne has rushed the football just six times in the fourth quarter due to the Tigers’ large leads most weeks. However, the All-American running back has rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 17 touchdowns thus far. Along the way, he became the ACC’s all-time leader in career rushing and total touchdowns and set the single season record for rushing touchdowns with 24 and tied for the record in a season with 26 a year ago.
“I do think there is something to be said for a running back who has to carry the ball 25 or 30 times and the game is on him,” Fowler said. “Jonathan Taylor comes to mind. I would never say he is not a deserving Doak Walker Award winner because so much of the offense is run through him and Travis is a piece of Clemson’s amazing puzzle. I do think when it comes to strength, acceleration and yards after contact, 5.3 is what Etienne brings. I don’t know if it is not close.
“I know [J.K.] Dobbins is right there with him. I think it is an interesting question. Who would you take? [Trevor] Lawrence and Etienne or [Justin] Fields and Dobbins. I think to Ohio State fans their answer will be clear. I think to Clemson fans their answer will be clear. To us neutrals, it is an interesting barstool conversation.”