Even with the shocking loss to Syracuse last week, Clemson (6-1, 4-1 ACC) still controls its destiny and remains in contention for a third straight College Football Playoff appearance.
But in order for the Tigers to avoid another addition to the wrong side of the win-loss record, they’re going to need a few players in particular to step up their game during the latter half of the 2017 regular season.
Particularly freshman running back Travis Etienne, who leads the team with 446 yards and six touchdowns on just 51 carries — an average (8.7 ypc) that ranks 4th nationally among ball-carriers with a minimum of 50 attempts.
ESPN put together a list of “X-factors” for each top 25 team on Wednesday, and Etienne is David Hale’s choice for the No. 7 Tigers.
“He has just 51 carries in six games played, but Etienne has clearly established himself as one of the country’s most explosive runners,” Hale wrote. “The true freshman has four carries of 50 yards or more, scoring six touchdowns and leading the Tigers in rushing yards. The problem, however, is that Etienne is still a work in progress in pass protection, and has had some notable misses in blitz pickup. That makes him a liability in passing situations, giving Clemson’s offensive staff a big question to grapple with: explosiveness in the ground game, or consistency in pass protection?”
Etienne, a former 4-star recruit out of Jennings, L.A., received a season-low five carries against the Orange due to a minor hamstring issue and still finished with 68 yards and a score.
With Georgia Tech coming up on October 28 and a battle with No. 16 NC State — which will assuredly decide the ACC Atlantic Division — soon after, it might be time for coach Dabo Swinney and company to figure out a way to get Etienne more touches moving forward.