Dabo Swinney hopes new running backs coach C.J. Spiller has a hard decision to make when he decides later this summer who Clemson’s starting running back will be when the Tigers’ open the 2021 season on Sept. 4.
Clemson, of course, is replacing the ACC’s all-time rushing leader in Travis Etienne. This spring, the Tigers had several guys battling for the top spot and the result from Saturday’s Orange & White Spring Game proved that no one separated themselves heading into summer workouts.
“That would be great. I hope it is hard,” Swinney said after the White’s 14-13 victory at Death Valley. “We like it when it is hard and very, very competitive. We got a bunch of talented guys. That makes everybody better.”
In Saturday’s game, Kobe Pace led all rushers with 69 yards on six carries, but it was freshman Phil Mafah who scored the game-winning touchdown, a four-yard run with 1:58 to play in the game. Mafah got all six of his carries in the second half. He finished the game with 38 yards on six carries.
“We are blessed with these young men that we have at running back,” Swinney said. “We love these guys. It is a very talented room. It is a deep room. It is a competitive room. We got a lot of similar and unique skill sets and you saw all of that on display today.”
Will Shipley, who is also a freshman, carried the ball six times for just 13 yards, while he did catch one pass for nine yards. Lyn-J Dixon, the veteran of the group, ran four times for 25 yards, including a 21-yard run.
Pace opened the game with a 26-yard run and averaged 11.5 yards per carry.
Chez Mellusi ran five times for 10 yards, Darien Rencher had two for seven and Michel Dukes three times for four yards.
“All of those guys can make plays for us. That is definitely one of the deepest positions we have on the team and one of the most competitive,” Swinney said. “We got a chance to be a pretty special group.”
In all, the seven running backs in contention to replace Etienne combined to rush for 166 yards on 32 carries and score one touchdown. They averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a group.
Clemson will kick off the 2021 season on Sept. 4 against longtime rival Georgia. The game will be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
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