Redshirt freshman busts out with late runs against Seminoles
CLEMSON - They high-five at shoulder height, then hook each other's hands with their fingers and, with a demonstrative motion downward, the hands are released.
The touchdown celebration exchanged between Clemson senior running back C.J. Spiller and his backup, Andre Ellington, culminates with a mutual salute.
"I had to come up with a little something special," Spiller said. "That's my guy."
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And perhaps Clemson's guy for the next few seasons.
The handshake could signify Ellington's initiation into the Tigers' fraternity of high-profile running backs.
Ellington, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound redshirt freshman from Moncks Corner, has shown glimpses of why the offense might not crumble into shambles when Spiller graduates at season's end.
At a minimum, Ellington and fellow backup Jamie Harper have proven capable closers when Spiller's combination of aches, conditioning issues and lingering turf toe have sidelined him during crucial stretches of significant contests.
"It's good to have fresh legs," coach Dabo Swinney said. "I think (Ellington) probably served notice to this conference he's going to be around for a while."
With Spiller bouncing in and out of the lineup during last Saturday's fourth quarter, Ellington stepped in and confused Clemson's press box announcer as to which one was carrying the ball.
"That's why Andre Ellington came here," Spiller said. "To give me some spares."
Trailing 24-21, an interception return and three Spiller runs set the Tigers up with a first-and-10 from the Seminoles' 11. Ellington was given consecutive carries, bursting through a hole for the go-ahead 9-yard touchdown with 9:37 remaining.
Ellington then started the next drive and on the series' fourth play, he cut back through a seam, hopped outside and raced 43 yards to the FSU 6, setting up Kyle Parker's 2-yard touchdown pass to Durrell Barry with 4:06 remaining.
"I just like the way Ellington runs," junior left tackle Chris Hairston said. "He's really turned it on for us the last couple of games. He has downhill runs. For a little guy, he's really able to stick it in there and stay on his feet and maybe somebody miss running through arm tackles."
While he lacks Spiller's final-gear speed, Ellington has demonstrated big-play potential in spot duty this season through his combination of quickness and change of direction abilities. Four of his 45 runs have gone for 32 yards or longer
Ellington has not been used on Spiller's infamous wheel route yet, but has displayed comparable hands as a pass-catcher, tallying nine catches.
Moreover, he also has demonstrated a decisiveness in hitting the hole for which Spiller was often criticized earlier in his career, and offensive coordinator Billy Napier says Ellington thrives behind a zone-blocking scheme. Ellington has lost yardage on only three carries this season.
Swinney has called Ellington a Spiller clone, and Ellington believes he and Harper are capable of picking up the slack next season.
"Hearing good thinks like that, about being compared to Spiller, make you smile," he said. "We don't want to take a step backward as a tandem. We want to take a step forward."