CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers have accomplished great things in the 2018 season, but few would have been possible without the play of sophomore running back Travis Etienne.
Etienne followed up a stellar freshman campaign with one of the best seasons for a running back in school history. In 13 games, Etienne broke the school record for rushing touchdowns (21), broke former Tiger C.J. Spiller’s record for touchdowns in a single season (22), tied former Tiger Wayne Gallman for third on the school’s leaderboard for career rushing touchdowns and became the second Tiger in school history to amass 1,400-plus yards in a single season.
But when asked about the success that he has had this season, the superstar sophomore is quick to share the spotlight.
“All that credit goes to my offensive line.,” Etienne said. “Coming in Monday through Friday, just grinding every single day, gives us the group of back we have. You want to go out there and lay it on the line for them.
“I think the reason I've been so successful this year is just the group of backs that I have, Tavien (Feaster) coming in there, running the defenses down, Adam (Choice) coming in. You see what he’s doing. When Lyn-J (Dixon) gets a chance, he's unbelievable in the vision he has. All my credit just goes to those guys.
Etienne’s first carry of the 2018 ACC Championship was a foreshadowing of the kind of historic night that he was going to have.
He went for 75 yards for the quickest touchdown in ACC Championship history — a minisule 13 seconds needed. He also added two scores, 156 yards rushing, became the fifth Clemson running back to rush for 100 yards in the championship and took home MVP honors for the game.
“For us to be able to run the ball 300 yards, a lot of credit to this guy next to me,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “What a year he's had. Special to watch Travis blossom into the player he is. But he took it over for us, that offensive line. We had no turnovers, rushed for 300 yards. We made just enough plays in the passing game.”
It was not the first time this season that Etienne took over a game. In fact, the Tigers may not be headed to their fourth straight College Football Playoff if it had not been for his performance against the Syracuse Orange in the fifth game of the season.
With the Tigers reeling after quarterback Trevor Lawrence was knocked out of the game, Etienne amassed 203 rushing yards and three touchdowns, leading Clemson to a 27-23 come-from-behind victory.
“He just continues to be himself. He runs hard and refuses to go down ... he takes some chances, but more often than not, when he takes those chances, they pay off big,” Elliott said. “I’m really, really proud of him and the way he ran the football and really, really proud of [Adam] Choice and Tavien [Feaster] as well.
“I probably would have liked to get Feaster and Choice a couple more carries, but Travis had the hot hand, and we were in a situation where we needed our best guys in the game, and that’s why he got those carries.”
It is that kind of determination that makes Etienne a problem for opponents.
“You know, certainly their offensive firepower is outstanding. Etienne at the running back position, great depth,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “So a winning football program, great culture, great players. You have to go take it from them. They are not going to give it to you.”
Clemson faces Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Cotton Bowl at 4 p.m. Dec. 29.