It was used more frequently this time, but Clemson’s rotation at running back was on display again against South Carolina State.
And it doesn’t sound like it’s leaving anytime soon.
Lyn-J Dixon, Kobe Pace and Will Shipley all took their turns in the Tigers’ backfield during last week’s 49-3 win, and they came quickly for each. Dixon got the start and took the handoff on Clemson’s first two offensive plays before Pace gave him a breather. By the time Clemson’s first drive ended with a touchdown a few minutes later, all three had seen the field.
The trio got the majority of their reps during the first three quarters and combined for 175 of Clemson’s 242 rushing yards. After helping the Tigers average 6.7 yards per carry and score five of their seven touchdowns on the ground, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said all three still deserve carries.
“Heck, Shipley was 10 yards a carry. Kobe was 10 yards a carry. Lyn-J did a good job with his opportunities as well,” Swinney said. “I think all three of those guys will continue to warrant opportunity, and I really don’t see that changing. We’re going to need them for sure.”
After getting just nine carries among them in Clemson’s season-opening loss to Georgia, the Tigers’ top three backs combined for 19 carries against South Carolina State. Shipley and Dixon also had three receptions between them with Dixon’s lone catch going for a 14-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
Pace and Shipley got the bulk of the carries, though. Dixon, a senior who spent the last three seasons backing up Travis Etienne, got just two more after the opening possession and has just five carries through the first two games, which could be the norm until Dixon works his way back into the good graces of running backs coach C.J. Spiller.
After being held out of the first half against Georgia because of what Swinney described as team rules, Dixon was listed behind Pace and Shipley on the updated depth chart released ahead of Clemson’s ACC opener against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Without getting into specifics, Swinney referred to Dixon being in Spiller’s doghouse leading up to last week’s game and that Dixon “just needs to grow up” if he wants to be a more prominent part of the offensive going forward, something offensive coordinator Tony Elliott spoke on more Monday.
Pace is a sophomore experiencing his first expanded role while Shipley is the freshman speedster. But Pace said he believes each back’s skill set is complete enough to be called on regardless of the frequency or situation.
“I feel like we can all do the same thing,” Pace said. “I don’t think there’s nobody that can’t go out there on third down or fourth down and get the first down. So I think we all can do whatever needs to be done.”
Reserve backs Michel Dukes and Darien Rencher also got some extended playing time in the blowout win. Swinney said Rencher has the full trust of the coaching staff should the Tigers need him to log more snaps in the future. Dukes, who fumbled at the tail end of a reception late in the first half on a release he wasn’t supposed to make out of the backfield, is still working on earning that.
“Just wish Dukes would take another step and really become a little bit more consistent and a little more detailed in what he does because he could help us as well,” Swinney said.
The majority of the workload in the backfield, though, will be handled by the Tigers’ top three options for the foreseeable future as long as they stay healthy.
“They played well,” Swinney said. “It’s hard to see any separation there when you’ve got a couple of guys averaging 10 yards per carry.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!