Clemson rushing attack looks to rebound in ACC title game
If Clemson hopes to claim a league-record sixth consecutive victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game on Saturday afternoon in its rematch with Notre Dame, the Tigers will have to find a way to generate a significantly more effective rushing attack than they did the first time.
Notre Dame’s defense forced the Tigers to be almost completely one-dimensional in their 47-40 two-overtime victory at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 7, limiting Clemson to 34 yards rushing and an average of one yard per carry.
That’s not a recipe for success, particularly for a team that boasts one of the nation’s top running backs in Travis Etienne. Etienne was confronted by Notre Dame defenders at every turn and was held to 28 yards; seven of his carries resulted in negative yardage.
“We couldn’t run the ball and that was obviously a huge difference in the game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson’s rushing woes were attributable to a combination of factors, with Notre Dame’s formidable defense foremost among them. The Fighting Irish boast the No. 7 rushing defense in the country, allowing 99.7 yards per game, and Notre Dame did considerably better than that against the Tigers.
“We weren’t able to move people as well as we wanted to in the run game,” Clemson offensive lineman Pat Putnam said.
Injuries along the offensive front to multiple players forced some youthful back-ups into action for Clemson at crucial junctures, and that didn’t pan out so well.
“But we’re always looking to improve,” Putnam said. “We’re a tight-knit group, win or lose.”
Fellow offensive lineman Jordan McFadden is looking forward to facing Notre Dame again and showing a better side.
“We struggled last time running the ball,” McFadden said. “Their defensive ends are really good and it’s a great challenge, but we have to accept that challenge and better ourselves. We have to be ready to perform at our best.”
Clemson is breaking in four new starters along the offensive front this season, and that has been evident at times. It also hasn’t helped the Tigers’ running game that opposing defenses have focused much of their effort and resources on stopping Etienne.
Etienne’s total rushing yardage (758) is his lowest since his freshman season, and his 5.1 yards-per-carry average is the lowest of his career. Etienne’s production in the passing game has increased greatly, but he hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since the fourth game of the season against Miami.
“We understand that everybody’s going to try to stop the run against us,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “Our guys up front are battling. I think the biggest thing for us is finishing blocks. Yes, we have a plan to run the football. We’re going to live and die with Travis Etienne.”