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Clemson Georgia Tech Football

Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9) runs against Georgia Tech defensive back Ajani Kerr (38) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

CLEMSON — The No. 4 Clemson Tigers may have a Heisman candidate on their team — and it is not the player many had thought it would be.

Entering the 2018 season, the Tigers had two players squarely on the radar of the Heisman watch pundits — senior quarterback Kelly Bryant and true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

While Bryant is no longer on the team and Lawrence’s career is only just beginning, a third candidate has emerged through the first six games — sophomore running back Travis Etienne, who is quickly jumping up the Tiger record books and taking his place as one of the nation’s best running backs.

“All of that stuff is to be determined but I know this, he is playing as good as anybody in the country after six games,” head coach Dabo Swinney said of Etienne during his weekly call-in show.

In only six games of work, Etienne ranks seventh in FBS rushing yards per game (126.83), sixth in average yards per rush (9.17), fourth in rushing yds (761), fourth in rushes of 10 yards or more (23), third in rushes of 20 yards or more (10), fourth in rushes of 30 yards or more (five) and sixth in rushes of 40 yards or more (three) — all while ranking 67th in attempts per game (13.83).

“(Clemson SID) Ross (Taylor) was telling me the other day he is like top five in everything but has 40 less attempts than the guy that is leading,” Swinney said. “He has been incredibly productive and efficient. His yards per carry are off the charts.”

Even with those numbers Swinney understands they do not award the Heisman Trophy after six games.

“Now six games, I don’t think wins a Heisman, but you never know. He’s got a chance,” Swinney said. “If he can find a way to get another 100 yards in this next game, then he will tie a school record that I think has been there for a long time.

“He has already broken the school record for rushing yards in a four-game span. He did that last week.”

Etienne became the first Clemson player to rush for a touchdown in six straight games since Wayne Gallman's eight-game streak to end the 2016 season. He also now has six career games with multiple rushing touchdowns. He has now recorded back-to-back games with multiple rushing touchdowns for the second time in his career (vs. Florida State and The Citadel in 2017).

Etienne became the first Clemson player to rush for 100 yards in four straight games since former Orangeburg-Wilkinson star Woodrow Dantzler against Wake Forest, Virginia, Duke and N.C. State in 2000. He is one 100-yard game shy of the school record of five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, set by Kenny Flowers in 1985 and by Raymond Priester in 1996-97.

And in last week’s 63-3 victory over Wake Forest alone, Etienne eclipsed the number of rushing touchdowns of 50 yards or more accrued in 15 games by the 2016 national champion Clemson squad, which recorded only one rushing touchdown that season.

“Travis is playing as good as anybody in the country,” Swinney said. “We’ve had a couple of games where he probably could have rushed for 400 by himself if we left him in there.

“He has been so efficient.”

Etienne opened the season with 100/1 odds of winning the Heisman. After six games, those odds have risen to 40/1.

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia.

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