Clemson running back Travis Etienne has come down to Earth the past couple of weeks after an incredible stretch of productivity that led to the sophomore entering the Heisman Trophy conversation.
Etienne accounted for 84 rushing yards on 25 carries the past two games against Florida State and N.C. State for an average of less than 3.4 yards per rush.
In the previous four games prior to his struggles, Etienne rushed for 654 yards on 64 carries and averaged more than 10 yards per run.
So what has changed? Yes, defenses are paying more attention to Etienne, but Clemson’s coaching staff also sees an area where the Louisiana native needs to improve.
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“He just gets amped up,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s so fast and so explosive and thinks he can break every tackle because he breaks a lot of tackles. He just wants to hit a home run every play, and sometimes he gets a little fast.”
Swinney and running backs coach Tony Elliott view one run in particular last week against Florida State as a missed opportunity.
Clemson was pulling its tackle to be the lead blocker for Etienne, but instead of being patient and waiting on the block to get there, Etienne rushed through the hole and was tackled after a short gain.
“I think we had one of the best blocked plays we had where we are down in the red zone and he outruns the tackle. If he just slows down and lets the tackle get out in front of him, we had a wall built. He’s going to walk in,” Elliott said. “The biggest thing is getting him to understand the different schemes, who the lead blockers are and trusting the process.”
Etienne has still been incredibly productive as a whole this season.
He has 845 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns and is averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. If Etienne can start being consistent with his patience and trusting his blockers, his numbers should start piling up once again.
“The biggest thing with Travis is to quit trying to be Superman. I tell him all the time, sometimes you go from being a hero to a zero. Don’t be a hero, just do your job,” Elliott said. “The first two runs (against FSU) Travis missed it. He didn’t want to be patient. And again, that’s his running style. He’s so confident that he can break tackles because he’s so confident in his physicality and speed that a lot of times he doesn’t want to wait on the offensive line.”
Swinney and Elliott also both said Etienne is very receptive to coaching, and they expect the star running back to get back on track soon.
“He’s got a great attitude about it,” Elliott said. “He loves the coaching. Oh, he loves it. He likes for you to get on him. He knows he’s talented and he knows he’s physical but he also knows he doesn’t understand all the schemes so he needs me to coach him hard.”