A look back at what we learned from Clemson’s 31-14 victory over Florida State before the Tigers host The Citadel:
Travis Etienne is Clemson’s No. 1 running back: The freshman has yet to get a start, but the coaching staff trusts Etienne with the game on the line. He had 14 carries Saturday against Florida State with 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry against the Seminoles and scored a pair of touchdowns. Etienne also had Clemson’s second longest reception of the day, catching a 16-yard pass in the third quarter.
Running backs coach Tony Elliott is not ready to say that Etienne is separating himself from the pack, but the Louisiana native has gotten carries late in close games each of the past two weeks.
“I think it was more of a situation where he had the hot hand there at the end of the game. He’s proven that he can function in that environment,” Elliott said. “Right now he’s probably the one that has the greatest opportunity for the big, explosive play. When you’re in a tough game, you’re looking for every opportunity to break a game open with a big play. And he’s that kind of guy.”
Van Smith has been an overlooked member of Clemson’s secondary: The safety has been a big part of Clemson’s success on defense, even before he saved the Tigers’ season with an interception in the fourth quarter Saturday night. Smith has started nine of 10 games and has moved from free safety to strong safety at times due to injuries.
Clemson was down three starters in the secondary in the second half against FSU, but Smith kept the group together as the Tigers held on for the win.
“He did a great job. ... That’s what you expect it being his third year,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “That backend did a great job all week helping guys prepare for the game, and again he played really, really well.”
Depth at DL isn’t an issue for Clemson: The Tigers have one of the best front fours in the country with Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, but the backups proved that they are pretty good as well. With Lawrence out, Clemson was still able to control the line of scrimmage, holding the Seminoles to 21 rushing yards.
Albert Huggins got the start for Lawrence and played well with four tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two quarterback hurries, while defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney received extended playing time and added a tackle.
“Albert had a really good game tonight. I’m really just impressed and happy with the way he put in the work all week and prepared, and it showed tonight,” Wilkins said. “And Nyles stepped up big. We had a three-man rotation on the interior and we got it done. It goes to show that no matter who’s in the game we can get the job done.”
Clemson’s experience is paying off: There was no panic on Clemson’s sideline after FSU rallied to cut the lead to 17-14 and got the ball back in Tigers territory with 6:36 remaining in the game. Instead, the Tigers immediately forced a turnover and scored on the ensuing drive to take a 10-point lead. Clemson then forced a turnover on downs without allowing FSU to get a first down and scored in the final seconds for the comfortable margin.
“You’ve got experienced guys, and like in last year’s game, you’ve got Deshaun Watson and all those guys, it came down to the fourth quarter and we had to find a way to get it done,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “This year, it looked a little bit different, but it was the same thing. It came down to the fourth quarter and even with all the adversity and maybe all the things we left out there, to finish with two touchdown drives I think says a lot about our guys’ mentality and the way you respond to the adversity.”
Kelly Bryant is missing too many layups: Clemson’s starting quarterback completed better than 66 percent of his passes against the Seminoles, but he also missed some easy throws that halted drives. The Tigers aren’t connecting on many shots down field, so it is imperative that Bryant make the easy throws.
He particularly struggled with his accuracy in the second half as Clemson had five consecutive drives end without points, allowing FSU to get back in the game.
“He’s missed a couple, but it’s like a shooter. You can’t stop shooting. You’ve gotta keep shooting,” Elliott said. “It’s like a baseball player that’s in a slump, you’ve got to keep on swinging. We’ll look to make sure that we’re putting him in position to have the easy layups, and we’ll just keep on working on it and continue to go forward.”