Hey Trevor, Get to Running
Clemson's run-game issues are well-documented at this point.
The Tigers are neither efficient or explosive enough. There is blame to go around for a team that's had just one game with 200 or more rushing yards. This is a program that's 66-1 under Dabo Swinney when they reach that mark, so yes, it does matter.
The average yards per carry is down nearly 2.5 yards. The offensive line and star rusher Travis Etienne have dealt with loaded boxes most of the season, but it's hard to buy that's the only reason. Do you think this is the first time in the last four years Etienne or offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has seen six or seven players in the box?
Regardless, what matters is that the Tigers do a better job of establishing the run, being balanced and giving opponents a reason to quit keying in on Etienne.
Sure, Clemson can throw the ball 45 times and beat everybody left on the regular-season schedule, but it might not beat Notre Dame or an Alabama or Ohio State down the road. Elliott's built his team around being balanced, and 5 yards per carry is a solid goal for any offense. Clemson's fallen short of that this year.
What the Tigers need is more than just running lanes for Etienne. They need another rusher, somebody to take the pressure off of one player who isn't a 20-carry per game workhorse. He's better when he's in the 14 range.
Unfortunately for Etienne, it doesn't look like that's coming from someone else in the running back room. Clemson's No. 2 back on the depth chart, Lyn-J Dixon, is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. The second-leading rusher, Darien Rencher, has COVID-19. Chez Mellusi has been solid in relief, but is he the guy to soften defenses for Etienne?
If only Clemson has somebody else on the roster who could run the ball. Maybe someone who averaged well over 5 yards per carry last season and has scored 14 times via the ground in his career. That would be helpful, wouldn't it?
Oh wait...they do. His name is Trevor Lawrence. While nobody has seen him with a helmet on since Oct. 24, he just might be the answer to getting Clemson's struggling run game off the ground. Or is it on the ground?
Either way, Clemson's offense is built to get rushing attempts out of the QB. The zone-read and the run-pass option work off of the threat of the signal-caller to keep the ball and take off running.
Think of Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson and Kelly Bryant. They could all do it and do it well. So can Lawrence, as he displayed against Ohio State in the CFP Fiesta Bowl last year.
Clemson's offense has actually missed his legs more than his arms the last two games, including the loss at Notre Dame. Freshman fill-in D.J. Uiagalelei is also a fine runner, but a shoulder injury that was worse than anyone knew kept the coaches from asking him to be Boyd or Bryant. He had to stay in the pocket, and defenses figured it out and didn't worry about his legs.
The cure is Lawrence, and it starts Saturday at noon when the No. 4 Tigers take on Florida State (2-6). He won't be hampered by an injury. He's COVID-19 free and is fresh. Now is the time to showcase that part of his game. It's not about being cautious. You can do that without putting him in harm's way but still running him effectively.
Clemson needs it in the worse way, and not to beat FSU. The Seminoles are already giving up the most yards per carry in the ACC, so there will be opportunities for everybody.
It's more about putting that QB run element back into the game film that future opponents will watch. Give them that something extra to prepare for, and maybe that spy or crashing defensive end takes his eyes off his assignment for half a second, opening up a big play for Etienne or the passing game.
Run Trevor, run. That's the answer.