The Clemson Tigers will attempt to get back to their fourth straight College Football Playoff in 2018. If they are to maintain their current run of success, they will need their offense to make some big strides from last season. The defense is returning a load of talent, and should have one of the best lines in the country. It’s likely that the Tigers won’t need to light up the scoreboard to win most of their games this season. However, they are not looking to just win most of their games, they are looking to compete for championships, and that means the offense will need to step up. The Clemson tailbacks will be a big key as to how far this team can go.
The run game was effective last season, despite the Tigers never really deciding on a lead back. The Clemson tailbacks produced more by committee in 2017. After having career rushing leader Wayne Gallman graduate the year before, the Tigers were never able to find a go to guy in the backfield. With each of their top returners having more experience heading into next season, The Tigers run game should be even more formidable.
Clemson Tailbacks; Carrying the Load
Travis Etienne – Sophomore
As a freshman, this Louisiana native showed his burst and explosiveness almost every game. Despite not being the feature back, he finished 2017 with 766 yards on 107 carries. He could develop into one of the nation’s best home run threats in 2018. Travis Etienne only had double digit carries in two games last season, yet still led all Clemson tailbacks in yards and touchdowns. He only had five catches out of the backfield so he still needs to develop that part of his game. Including that meager receiving production, Etienne averaged 7.3 yards per touch as a freshman. His 823 total yards and 13 touchdowns both led the team. His explosiveness is unquestioned, and as he learns the offense better, he should see his touches increase as a sophomore.
Tavien Feaster – Junior
Tavien Feaster arrived at in Tiger Town as a five star recruit whom much was expected of. Two seasons in, and he has proved a productive runner, but has not quite lived up to lofty expectations. He was second on the team with 669 yards rushing last season, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Feaster had his best game last season at NC State, with 105 yards and a score on only seven carries. He had a season high 20 carries against Boston College, but only had three games with double digit touches. Feaster and Etienne split carries the whole season, with neither having to carry too much of the load. The Clemson tailbacks may be even more involved in 2018, as the coaches may want to take away some of the carries, and hits, Kelly Bryant had last year. Feaster is more of the power back, with a bigger frame than his running partner, and not quite the same explosiveness.
While Etienne and Feaster will get the bulk of the workload, they will not be the only ones looked at to carry the rock for Clemson this season. Senior Adam Choice has been a solid contributor in his time at Clemson. While he is not the top level talent as the other Clemson tailbacks, he still finds a way to produce. He chipped in with 326 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. The Tigers will once again rely on quarterback Kelly Bryant’s legs again. He led the team in carries in his first season starting. The hope is that either Feaster or Etienne will grab the reigns as the lead back, and Bryant will not have to run the ball as much. He is an effective runner though, his elusiveness was crucial in multiple games where the offense otherwise stalled.
The Tigers will also utilize the athletes they have at receiver to add to the ground game. As a freshman, Amari Rodgers had 19 carries for 123 yards, mostly on jet sweeps. True freshman wide-out Derion Kendrick could also get some touches in the run game. Clemson is not short on explosive talent, so they will look to get the ball to their play-makers in multiple ways.
The Long Run
The Tigers have lofty goals, and will need the whole team to play at a high level to meet them. Last season the defense was up to challenge, but the offense let them down in the College Football Playoff loss to Alabama. Kelly Bryant will be entering his second season as the starter at quarterback, and should show progression from his solid first go round. Finding a balance between Etienne and Feaster will help take some of the pressure off of Bryant. The Clemson tailbacks have the talent to rival any backfield in the nation. Now they just have to step up and show it on the field consistently.