It started in the Tigers' opening game loss to the Georgia Bulldogs when Clemson running back Lyn-J Dixon did not appear until the fourth quarter of the 10-3 loss, when head coach Dabo Swinney announced that he did not play in the first three quarters due to "team discipline."
Then in Saturday's 49-3 win over S.C. State, Dixon started the game but only garnered four carries for 27 yards before giving way to true freshman Will Shipley, who finished with a team-high 80 yards rushing.
The reason for Dixon's disappearance: he was again in the doghouse.
"He just needs to grow up," Swinney said after the game. "Needs to grow up. It's just that simple. He needs to be a team player. And just grow up. He’s a very good player, obviously. Need him to stay out of Spiller's doghouse. That’s really it."
Dixon apparently heard Swinney's remarks and took to Twitter to state his case, saying:
"Im [sic] a great team player I love to see all my brothers eat on the field."
Where Dixon stands heading into the Tigers' next game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets remains to be seen, but one thing is clear—the Tigers will be OK when it comes to the running back position.
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“We stunk last week and didn’t do a good job of hanging in with (the running game),” Swinney said. “Again, when you’re behind in field position and behind the chains, it was weird kind of day. But we did a poor job of at least working a little harder to be effective there. And so definitely we needed to get those (running backs) going because it was really to evaluate them with what happened last week.”
Monday, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, the former running backs coach, was asked for his insight into the apparent ever-growing rift between Dixon and Spiller.
“I have (had conversations with Dixon) because I’ve been a part of his life,” Elliott said. “But at the same time, too, C.J. has to establish the culture in that room. Really the biggest thing is just accountability and communication between the two. I remember when I first came in, I had Mike Bellamy, I had Demont Buice, (Andre) Ellington was an older guy, I had Hot Rod (Roderick McDowell), and I had to establish the dominant role in that room. Obviously, Ellington had been here for a while, and not saying that we were butting heads, but we had to get on the same page. He had to understand what my coaching style is, and that’s what you’re going through there.
“Obviously, Lyn-J has been used to me, and now he’s just getting used to Spiller. But y’all know Spiller, y’all know the character that he has and how he’s going to establish the hierarchy in that room. And any of us that are in a situation where you’ve got a chain of command, you’ve got to respect the chain of command and do things according to how the person that’s leading the room sets it. So, it’s really more accountability and communication between the two. They’re working through it. But you know our program, too. That’s what the foundation of our program is – accountability.”
Elliott echoed Swinney's statements regarding that it is not on the field performance that is the heart of the problem.
“There’s no question about the type of player that Lyn-J is,” Elliott said. “Lyn-J’s made a bunch of plays for us in this program. The biggest thing is just getting on the same page with his coach and the things that his coach is asking him to do. And it’s not necessarily football stuff, it’s the total package. And I think that’s been illustrated in our program, that everything matters if you’re going to be the lead guy and the first guy that runs out.”
Dixon entered 2021 with 1,372 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 208 career attempts and 183 yards on 18 catches in 519 career snaps over 38 games … entered his fourth season ranked second in school history in yards per carry (6.60) behind Clemson legend and former teammate Travis Etienne.
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