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Clemson has opportunity to continue Rushing success vs. Wake Forest

Is the Rushing attack this Offense’s Identity?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the biggest issue with Clemson’s Offense so far this season is that they haven’t really had an identity, a “bread and butter” that they could rely on to move the ball when the going got tough. This often culminated in disappointing stretches of Offensive output against the likes of Texas A&M, Georgia Southern, and even Syracuse this past weekend.

Although the Tigers possess one of the best receiving units in College Football, they are also still breaking in a true freshman quarterback. Expecting a young Trevor Lawrence to be able to go out and win you all of these games so early in his career is asking too much of anyone regardless of how talented they are. It was almost as if the coaches wanted to show everyone watching that Lawrence was a superior passer in order to try and justify their decision to anoint him as the starter over Kelly Bryant. Clemson was tearing Syracuse up on the run, but for some reason Trevor was still throwing the ball more than he was giving it up. As a result, the offensive production in the first half stalled.

But the solution was right in front of the coaches’ eyes the entire time. As Trevor Lawrence went down with a concussion/neck injury you could hear the life sucked out of the entire stadium. Even though Lawrence hadn’t had his best game, almost everyone still felt that in order to comeback and win the game the star freshman would need to return. Trevor did not return, however, sometimes you just need to keep things simple.

There’s no denying that Clemson’s offense is more prolific with Trevor Lawrence under center, but on Saturday afternoon the Tigers discovered that the most important player for consistent offensive production was actually somebody other than the quarterback. When the going got tough, Clemson leaned on sophomore running back Travis Etienne for a spark, and boy did he deliver. Etienne emphatically announced his potential Heisman candidacy with over 200 yards on the ground and 3 TDs. The fffense and the crowd thrived off the Louisiana native’s explosive runs, as they could feel their team creeping back into the game. It was fitting when he scored the final TD to cap off an epic comeback, and in the process perhaps foreshadowed what the future of the Clemson offense looks like.

Etienne may have proved that he’s the driving force behind the offense, but that should not discount the other members of Clemson’s backfield who stepped up against Syracuse too. Tavien Feaster has come along more and more every week, while 5th-year Senior Adam Choice offers a nice change of physicality when subbed in. These 3 players, but especially Etienne, look set to become the staple of Clemson’s Offense this season. There is a bonafide Heisman candidate in our backfield, and so there are zero excuses for said player to not be receiving 15+ touches a game at minimum.

All of the talk has been about the quarterbacks thus far without mentioning that what really gives Clemson the best opportunities to win are through the running game. Over the last 2 weeks, Clemson has rushed for approximately 541 yards. That’s a very encouraging sign for Tiger faithful, and one should expect a continued commitment to the run game from here going forward.

Being able to run the football effectively and make it a real strength of your offense has not been something the Tigers have done consistently since the 2015-2016 season. Having an effective running game can open up many different options for the offense that they did not necessarily have over the past 2 seasons. While those seasons had Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman carrying much of the heavy-lifting, this season is slightly different. This year Clemson has 3 very good backs they can lean on, including one among the top-tier players at his position. It would be wise to take advantage of this depth, especially after the results that have been yielded over the past 2 weeks.

Clemson was forced to take a hard look at itself in the mirror against Syracuse and had to determine not only what they were made of, but also how they were going to win football games going forward. When they needed to lean on their “bread and butter” they chose to do so behind the devastating runs of Travis Etienne. Trevor Lawrence by all accounts is as healthy as ever going into this weekend, but it would be very surprising to see the focal point of this offense be anything other than the run game on Saturday.

This weekend is a major opportunity to build on the rushing success had over the last 2 weeks. Wake’s fun defense is statistically weak, and so if Clemson makes a commitment to run the ball there might be little the Demon Deacons are able to do to stop it. As Dabo told his 2 offensive coordinators during the Syracuse game, sometimes you have to go old school. There are many ways to make this offense dynamic and explosive, but you also don’t have to overcomplicate things either. A passing game led by Trevor Lawrence and his talented WR group sounds incredible, but those receivers are inexperienced and Trevor is still just a freshman. Running the football is a smarter, more efficient way for this offense to operate for at least the next few games.