Clemson University

Clemson tailback enters Heisman conversation. Will he stay there?

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney previews Wake Forest

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney on facing Wake Forest
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Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney on facing Wake Forest

The Clemson offense has had several moving parts through the first five weeks of the 2018 season.

The Tigers have played three quarterbacks significant minutes with Kelly Bryant, Trevor Lawrence and Chase Brice each receiving action with the game on the line.

Clemson has shuffled its offensive linemen regularly, consistently playing eight guys up front, and it has also rotated its deep group of wide receivers and tight ends throughout the first five games.

One of the constants on offense? That’s been running back Travis Etienne, who has started all five games and is off to an incredible start to his sophomore season.

The Louisiana native has rushed for 594 yards and eight touchdowns through Week 5 and is averaging more than 8 yards per carry. While Etienne has just started generating some Heisman Trophy buzz, it could grow if he can continue on his recent pace, particularly if he starts getting more carries.

“He’s special,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “I wouldn’t want to trade him for anybody else’s back in the country. I think he’s awesome. It’s obvious to everybody watching the game, just seeing him breaking tackles, he just gets better and better.”

Etienne and Lawrence this week are each listed with 100-to-1 odds by the Bovada sportsbook to win this season’s Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football’s best player. (Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa is the current favorite.)

Etienne is second in the nation in yards per carry at 8.1, behind only Darrell Henderson of Memphis who is at 11.7, but he is first out of Power 5 schools. He also is getting better as the season goes along.

Over the past three weeks Etienne has 54 carries for 487 yards and six touchdowns. He is averaging more than 162 yards per game during that stretch.

“He’s having a great year, and we’re not surprised because he’s worked extremely hard,” Scott said. “I know he’s up there around the country in yards per rush and all of that. Hopefully that’ll continue and we’ll continue to be able to give him the ball and guys up front will continue to block for him like they are.”

With Bryant transferring from Clemson last week and Lawrence going down with an injury in the first half, receiver Hunter Renfrow was an injury away from playing quarterback during Clemson’s come-from-behind win against Syracuse.

Renfrow said he is confident he would have performed well because his job would have been simple.

“All I had to do was just go and hand the ball off to Travis, it seemed like,” Renfrow said.

Five running backs finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting last year, including Bryce Love, Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Jonathan Taylor and Kerryon Johnson.

Only Love had a yards per carry number as high as Etienne’s, matching it at 8.1.

“I don’t know if he’s in the Heisman conversation, but he should be because he’s that caliber of player. He’s unbelievable,” Renfrow said. “We’re blocking down field, and next thing you know, he’s by you. It elevates not just the offensive linemen to be able to hold and maintain those blocks, but also the receivers blocking downfield. It uplifts everybody’s game and that’s what great players do. “

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