CLEMSON FOOTBALL: Etienne emerges as go-to runner
CLEMSON—The accolades keep pouring in for Clemson’s true freshman running back Travis Etienne.
Only three days removed from a dominant performance in the Tigers’ 31-14 victory over Florida State -- in which he rushed for 97 yards and two scores, adding a 16-yard reception and 45 yards on kickoff returns for a team-high 159 all-purpose yards — Etienne was named the ACC Rookie of the Week.
But even after a dominant performance against the Seminoles, there is still a lot that the true freshman needs to work on if he is going to become a complete back.
“There’s a lot of things that I can still improve on, as far as my run technique, finding those extra yards and just being patient,” Etienne said. “There’s a lot of things that I can improve on. All my success this year goes to my offensive line and to the receivers - -blocking. And Coach (Tony) Elliott putting me in a position to make plays and the other running backs for helping me to know what I need to do and what I need to work on.”
Etienne’s rise up the Tigers’ depth chart has been a steady one — starting out the preseason behind C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice. In recent weeks, he and Feaster have emerged as the Tigers’ one-two punch in the backfield.
But it is Etienne that has shown the ability to close games out, as he leads the Tiger running backs in yards per game (68.6), yards (630), touchdowns (nine) and average yards per carry (7.7) — all while appearing in one less game (nine) than his counterparts.
The rise was not unexpected for Etienne, who believes it is a result of the hard work that he has put in and believing in himself.
“For me, I expected to just be my best,” Etienne said. “To play the best I can be and just me focusing on the things that I can control and it really helped me out. But for me, I always hold myself to higher expectations than everyone else and I came here seeing myself doing a lot. I’m thankful for the position that God has put me in.
“I definitely knew what I was getting myself into when I came here -- Clemson and Alabama played the past two years and the physicality, you see them both get after it. Coming here I did know what to expect.”
Behind the play of the freshman phenom, the Tigers have seen a shift in their identity from wide receiver university to running back university.
The Tigers rank 78th nationally in passing offense, 101st in pass plays of 20-plus yards and 103rd in pass plays of 30-plus yards. Last season, the Tigers ranked seventh in passing offense, third in pass plays of 20-plus yards and 26th in pass plays of 30-plus yards.
This season, the Tigers have improved their rushing statistics to rank 24th in rushing offense, 29th in rush plays of 30-plus yards and 15th in rush plays of 40-plus yards.
But for Etienne and the rest of the Tiger offense, it does not matter how they are winning — as long as they keep winning.
“Everyone is really glad with the wins, the Ws and nobody really cares how we get it,” Etienne said. “We just glad that we get them and everyone is just focused on winning. Being able to win different ways really helps us out.”