GLENDALE, Ariz. – After failing to execute the same play in practice this week, Clemson running back Travis Etienne made the play when it counted on Saturday in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.
Etienne caught a pop pass from Trevor Lawrence off a run fake for the game-winning 34-yard touchdown with 1:49 remaining in the third-ranked Tigers’ 29-23 win over No. 2 Ohio State at State Farm Stadium.
“It’s kind of crazy because we ran that play Wednesday practice and I kind of got inside like I did today, and I peeked off the safety and I dropped the pass in practice,” Etienne said. “So, it’s kind of crazy. I Facetimed Coach. I was like ‘Coach, give me the pop pass if you want it to go,’ and it’s kind of crazy to see how that worked because in practice I dropped it. Just being locked into the moment and ready for the game is how it happened.”
Etienne, who also scored on a 53-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, became the first Clemson running back with two receiving touchdowns since Jamie Harper on Sept. 18, 2010 at Auburn. His 98 receiving yards were the most by a Clemson running back since C.J. Spiller’s 104-yard performance through the air at Miami on Oct. 24, 2009.
While Etienne had a career night in the passing game, he only ran for 36 yards on 10 carries and did not expect to be outrushed by Lawrence, who recorded career highs in rushing attempts (16) and rushing yards (107) while adding one rushing touchdown.
“Coming into the game if you would’ve told me, I would have been like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,’” Etienne said of being outgained on the ground by Lawrence. “But they had a great defensive game plan, and Trev, you see what he could do with his feet and I don’t think anybody expected that. But us, we in the locker room, we know what Trevor can do with his legs, and we just see it in practice and it came to light on the biggest stage.”
One of Etienne’s 10 rushing attempts came late in the second quarter when he took a toss from Lawrence, stiff-armed a defender, made a cutback move and willed his way into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown that put Clemson on the scoreboard and cut its deficit to 16-7 with 2:45 left before halftime.
Though the Tigers trailed 16-0 midway through the second quarter, they did not point fingers or blame but rather did their best to stay positive in the face of adversity.
“Everyone encouraging everybody,” Etienne said. “Coach Swinney came to me. He was like, ‘It’s easy to lead when everything’s going good, but this is when you have to lead now, when things are not going your way.’ So, that was big for me. It kind of got me up and I was able to help the guys just keep their spirits and just go out there and try to make a play and just try to create a spark wherever we can, and we got it going.”
After his heroics in the Fiesta Bowl, Etienne is excited to return home for the national championship game against LSU on Jan. 13 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Etienne is a native of Jennings, Louisiana, which is located about two and a half hours from the Superdome.
“It’s going to be great just going back to New Orleans, just being able to play in the Superdome,” Etienne said. “I’m going to have a lot of family there, so I’m going to try to go out there and just play my best four quarters for them and my teammates and just let the scoreboard take care of itself.”
Etienne chose to play for Clemson over LSU during the recruiting process, another reason why the national title game will be a special one for him.
“For me, I’m going to try to tackle it with a next-game mindset, but definitely going to be an emotional game,” he said. “But we can’t let emotions get the best of us because the emotions won’t win the game for you. So, have to come out there and be locked in, get the emotions out the way very early and just be able to dial in and make plays for my team.”
Etienne expects a lot of family members and friends to ask him for tickets to the national championship.
“Most definitely,” he said. “Hopefully I can get them all some.”
A great gift for any Clemson fan. Just one of many great items available from Clemson Variety & Frame