When Travis Etienne decided to return to Clemson for his senior season, everyone expected him to have another 1,600-yard rushing season.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the Tigers’ young offensive line never fully developed through a season of missed training time and Zoom meetings. Opposing defenses took advantage of the situation and loaded up the box, daring quarterback Trevor Lawrence and his unproven receivers to beat them.
And though Lawrence and company set Clemson records in the passing game, defenses continued to stack the box, determined not to let Etienne break loose.
So, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott got creative with how he used Etienne. The Jennings, La., native became a true weapon in the passing game, lining up in the slot or on the field side or throwing the football to him on well executed screen plays out of the backfield.
Etienne finished the season with 48 receptions for 588 yards and two touchdowns. Both his catches and yards were good enough for third on the team, while they were both Clemson single-season records for a running back.
And though he did not have 1,600 rushing yards, like he produced the previous two seasons, Etienne still had a decent year running the ball. The senior rushed for 914 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
As a three-down running back, who improved greatly as a pass blocker, too, Etienne earned First-Team All-American honors as an all-purpose player and was a First-Team All-ACC running back and all-purpose selection.
During the season, Etienne became the ACC’s career rushing leader, as well as the league’s all-time leading scorer. He already owned the ACC’s career record for rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns prior to the 2020 season.
Etienne finished his Clemson career with 70 rushing touchdowns and 78 total touchdowns. His 468 points broke Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins’ ACC record for career points (466 from 2009-12). He tied Travis Prentice (468 from 1996-99) for the seventh-most career points in FBS history.
He also joined Keenan Reynolds (88), Montee Ball (77), Prentice (73), Ricky Williams (72) and Kenneth Dixon (72) as the only FBS players ever to rush for 70 career touchdowns in NCAA history.
Etienne concluded his senior season having scored a touchdown of any kind in 46 of his 55 career games, adding to his FBS record for most career games scoring a touchdown.
As a running back, he finished his career with 4,952 rushing yards, which as mentioned were the most in the history of the ACC.
Though he did not put up the big-time numbers he put up as a sophomore and junior, Etienne still had an amazing senior season and once again helped the Tigers win an ACC Championship and return to the College Football Playoff.
As for Clemson’s other running backs, injuries slowed down Lyn-J Dixon’s production, though Chez Mellusi did show marked improvement and will be a legitimate threat to push Dixon for the starting job this spring.
Dixon finished third on the team in rushing with 190 yards and two touchdowns, though he came on strong at the end of the season and ran the ball hard against Virginia Tech in the regular season finale and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
Mellusi ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Senior Darien Rencher, who announced on Sunday he is returning for another year, averaged 5.7 yards per carry and had 137 yards and one touchdown.
Running backs Grade: B