There are two signs that indicate if a team can make a run towards a championship … running the football and stopping the run.
Clemson has been pretty good all year at stopping the run, as the third-ranked Tigers are allowing just 105.4 yards per game, good enough for third in the ACC. Opponents are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
On the flip side, however, Clemson has not been the same old Clemson when it comes to running the football. Part of that is because teams are loading the box and daring the Tigers to beat them in the passing game, limiting All-American running back Travis Etienne to a career low in yards per carry.
As a team, Clemson ranks 10th in the ACC, averaging just 158.3 yards per game and just 4.4 yards per carry.
But don’t look now, the Tigers are starting to come on at the right time. In the last two games, they have shown significant improvement in the running game.
Against Pitt, who leads the ACC in rushing defense (93.6 yards allowed/game), Clemson ran for 173 yards, not counting sacks. It was the most rushing yards the Panthers allowed all season.
Clemson, who will play No. 2 Notre Dame in next Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, then produced 238 yards at Virginia Tech last week, the most rushing yards in a game since it ran for 258 against Miami on Oct. 10.
“We definitely won the line of scrimmage and we knew it was going to be a game like that,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think we had 238 rushing, but I think we with our RPO stuff was like 350 or something. So, I was really pleased with what we were able to do there and averaged almost eight yards per carry. We were just efficient.”
If the Tigers (9-1, 8-1 ACC) can continue to run football like it has done in the last two weeks, then it’s going to make life a little bit easier as they hit the postseason. Remember, Notre Dame held Clemson to 34 rushing yards back on Nov. 7, including just 28 from Etienne. It was the lowest output by Etienne in his career and the lowest by a Clemson team since 2011.
But after that performance in South Bend, Clemson has made a valiant effort to get better up front and be more productive in the running game.
“We did a lot of good things. We played clean. We did not have a lot of negative yards,” Swinney said. “Again, it was a different deal because they had the ball 38 minutes to our 22. I usually don’t care about time of possession at all. We want to score as quick as we can, but in that particular game it was a very intentional mode of operation. It was not that they were scoring a bunch of points and keeping the ball and putting long touchdown drives together. They were just taking the clock all the way down, huddling, the quarterback was going to the sideline.
“That first half was pretty frustrating, but we maximized our opportunities, three out of four possessions (were scores) and once the defense got rolling in the second half, I think that worked against them and we were able to ultimately take it over up front.”
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