After RB Travis Etienne announced his decision to return for his senior season, most were expecting the Tigers rushing game to be a force to be reckoned with.
After the season began, it was realized that it may not be as strong as expected. Etienne came back with the chance to break many of the rushing records, and while he was able to reach some of those milestones but it wasn’t nearly the year that was expected.
Etienne alone went from averaging 107.6 yards a game and a total of 1,614 yards gained in 2019 to averaging 76.2 yards a game and a total of 914 yards gained in 2020. Overall the Tigers overall went from averaging 240.4 yards a game and totaling 3,606 yards in 2019 to 153.8 yards a game and totaling 1,846 yards in 2020.
The coaching staff realized that the rushing game wasn’t going to be there and decided to attempt to get the ball to Etienne through the passing game in an attempt to get the ball into one of their better playmaker’s hands. This is where Etienne may have helped himself on draft day even more. He came in wanting to show how much he’d improved as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He had 588 receiving yards, two touchdowns, and averaged 12.2 yards per catch. While Etienne had two more touchdowns (4) in 2019 he also had less total yards (432) and averaged less yards per catch (11.7) through the air in 2019.
It was really upsetting as a fan watching one of the greatest running backs to ever wear the paw come back for his senior season and not have the opportunity to do some of the things most thought he would.
The fact that the Clemson offensive line’s run blocking was almost nonexistent this season was very evident and it helped opponents take the Tiger running backs out of the equation and caused them at times to become very one dimensional. This really showed in the lopsided loss in the College Football Playoff Semifinal to Ohio State when Clemson was held to 44 yards on 22 attempts and an average of 2 yards a carry.
Lyn-J Dixon was ineffective in limited action and seemed to at least temporarily get passed by Chez Mellusi on the depth chart. He averaged four carries per game. Mellusi and Darien Rencher each averaged less than three per game. Freshman Kobe Pace had more carries than sophomore Mikey Dukes and former five-star player Demarckus Bowman decided to transfer shortly after the season began.
This group will need to find a way to become a larger factor if the Tigers want to do more in the playoff than they have the last two seasons. Heading into the season this was thought to be one of the deepest running back rooms in the country and no one behind Etienne made much of an impact. With two more highly talented backs coming in and only Etienne leaving (so far), this team will have to find a way to get more out of their running backs in 2021.
2020 Position Grades