For the fourth straight season, the Clemson Tigers are in the College Football Playoff. They will face Notre Dame in the semifinals in the Cotton Bowl. Dabo Swinney’s team has cruised through most of the season. They haven’t been tested since a come-from-behind victory at home against Syracuse. That was the day Travis Etienne emerged as one of the best tailbacks in the country, and proved he is the catalyst for this offense. The Tigers are loaded on both sides of the ball. They have a defense full of next level talent that has dominated almost every team they have faced. The offense has improved each week under freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and its young skill position players. Even with the loads of talent on this squad, Etienne remains the key piece for the Tigers.
Travis Etienne Should Carry The Load
Break the Rotation
Clemson is deep all over the field, and they used as many players as possible in each game throughout the season. They are especially deep in the backfield, with four tailbacks rotating for much of the season. Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster, and Lyn-J Dixon have all helped Etienne carry the load during the 2018 season. While each back has played well when given the chance, but as the playoff nears, and Clemson needs to break up their rotation. The toughest games of their season are coming up, and they need to allow their best offensive player to carry the team from here on out. It’s time for Etienne to become the workhorse on this offense.
Each of the other three backs has been solid when called upon. Feaster has the second most carries on the team, with 71 for 409 yards. Choice has 68 carries and 506 yards, for a robust 7.4 yards per. Dixon is a speedy freshman who has made the most of his touches in the late stages of Clemson’s many blowouts this season. His 536 yards are second on the team and his 9.6 yards per carry is eye catching. As evident from their numbers, each of the Tigers’ back up ball carriers are talented and productive. Clemson has utilized the entirety of its roster all season, and the use of four tailbacks has kept them fresh all season. However, now that the playoffs are upon us, its time for the Tigers to break up its rotation. It is time to feed Etienne the ball.
For a few weeks mid-season, Travis Etienne was garnering some much deserved recognition as a possible Heisman contender. After a close call at Texas A&M in week two, Swinney said they needed to give the ball their star tailback more. Over the next four games, the sophomore from Louisiana totaled 162, 122, 203, and 167 yard respectively. As impressive as those number are, he still only had more than 16 carries once in that span. For the season, Etienne averaged just 13 carries a game. Some of that is due to the Tigers tailback rotation, and some was due to Clemson having most of their games wrapped up early in the second half. The ACC Offensive Player has 1464 yards and 21 touchdowns through 13 games.
It is playoff time now, and the Tigers need to let Etienne carry the load. He is their best offensive player and he needs to touch the ball at least 20 times against the Fighting Irish. Just twice this season has he had 20 or more touches, and both of those games he had over 150 yards and multiple touchdowns. Etienne took the opening play of the ACC title game 75 yards for a score, and finished with 156 yards on just 12 carries. For his career he averages eight yards every time he touches the ball. If he got the workload most number one tailbacks get, he could have totaled well over 2000 yards this season.
Sharing touches to keep all of their talent involved and well rested has served Clemson well this season. Choice, Feaster, Ross will still get some carries in the semifinals and beyond. There is little doubt that they will continue to produce as well. However, now that each game could be their last in 2018, its time to feed Travis Etienne the ball more than ever. His explosiveness and consistency is at too high a level to limit his carries.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has played better and better as the season has progressed. The Tigers have big play threats in Tee Higgins and Justin Ross for him to throw to. This team is still built to rely on its dominance at the line of scrimmage and, in the running game. Etienne is their most important offensive player. He needs to be heavily involved in the game-plan to maximize their chances in the College Football Playoff.