When talking about Clemson’s problems offensively, everyone wants to point to the absence of Trevor Lawrence and the fact the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is no longer with the Tigers.
But in the opinion of ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, the Tigers are missing Lawrence’s former Clemson and current Jacksonville Jaguars teammate — running back Travis Etienne — perhaps even more.
“Everybody wants to talk about Trevor Lawrence not being there. To me, it’s about Travis Etienne not being there because he was a guy that could make plays happen when they weren’t there,” Herbstreit said on SportsCenter on Saturday morning. “Will Shipley doing a decent job of that. Don’t get me wrong, Clemson’s eventually going to find their way. But right now, that’s what they’re facing — teams taking away their vertical threat, forcing them to be patient and move the ball down the field methodically, and it’s been tough to do without a run game.”
As Herbstreit pointed out, Clemson (2-1, 1-0 ACC) is averaging only 80 rushing yards per game against the two FBS opponents it has played thus far in Georgia and Georgia Tech. The Tigers were held to just 2 yards on the ground against UGA.
Herbstreit sees a new trend this season in college football, “and it’s more defense,” he said.
“Defenses are back to mattering, and there a lot of teams that are using the same system,” he said. “What they’re doing is they’re sitting back with three defensive backs that are deep, they’re rushing three and they’re keeping five underneath, they’re playing a lot more zone and they’re forcing teams like Clemson to prove that they can run the ball. And if you don’t have an offensive line that can control the line of scrimmage and a difference-maker in the backfield, then you’re prone to being vulnerable, and that’s where Clemson is vertically. Teams are not going to allow these receivers to make plays downfield. Therefore, they’re just going to say hey, we’re not going to give explosives up, can you run the ball?”
The Tigers return to action at 3:30 p.m. today against NC State (2-1, 0-0 ACC) at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. The game will be televised on ESPN.
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