The old football adage says is if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.
What about four running backs?
Clemson spent the first four weeks of the 2017 season trying to find snaps and carries for Tavien Feaster, C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Travis Etienne.
Eventually, it’s been assumed that a back, or maybe two, would emerge after a few games in the Wayne Gallman replacement sweepstakes.
It appears the Tigers have reached that point.
Coming out of No. 2 Clemson’s 34-7 win against Boston College on Saturday, true freshman Etienne is the best running back on Clemson’s team.
Etienne’s 113 rushing yards and two touchdowns on nine carries led the Tigers on Saturday. He was already the top rusher on the team before Week 4.
He’s produced 292 yards while playing in just three of Clemson’s four games. A player who arrived on campus in July is up to four career touchdowns.
“He runs like his life depends on it,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott said. “He runs physical. He runs through tackles.”
Does this mean he’s the best choice to see the most snaps? Well, that’s a different argument.
Swinney came out of fall camp saying the running back position would be one of the biggest surprises of the season, but it would take actual games to decide how it would all play out.
In a Week 1 rout of Kent State, no one back stood out enough to change Swinney’s mind. In a tight, 14-6 win against No. 15 Auburn the next week, Etienne never got in. Fuller, Feaster and Choice combined for 41 yards and a fumble on 14 carries.
Clearly, Clemson stuck with the committee approach last week at No. 19 Louisville, where the running backs racked up 271 yards and nearly had a pair of 100-yard rushers.
Feaster and Etienne excelled. The former had 92 yards on 10 carries. The latter bounced an inside run call outside and took it to the house for an 81-yard score.
Against the Eagles on Saturday, it was supposed to still be a four-man race, but Feaster, who had 73 yards on 20 carries, received the start, the first of his career, over Fuller, who had the fumble against Auburn and was the least effective back at Louisville.
Boston College came into Clemson reeling after giving up 515 rushing yards last week against Notre Dame, and through three quarters, Clemson had 269 rushing yards. Most of that belonged to QB Kelly Bryant, who went over 100 rushing yards and has dominated the rushing attempts this season.
But in the fourth quarter, with the game unexpectedly tied, the Tigers rushed for 213 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns: one by Choice, another by Bryant and two by Etienne.
The freshman’s first was a 50-yard score that put Clemson up 21-7 and put the game away. Sure, he was the freshest back against a tiring BC defense, but he tacked on a 10-yard touchdown with 52 seconds left when he bounced off a defender, spun and dove for the end zone.
“When he gets the ball in his hands, it’s amazing,” Feaster said. “He’s a very special talent.”
Fuller, meanwhile, fumbled in his only carry of the day. Choice had a respectable 26 yards on six carries.
No offense to those two, but this four-person committee is down to two.
Feaster likely gives Clemson a little more reliability. The sophomore has been the most efficient back between the tackles and has improved his pass protection.
Etienne caught his coach’s eye when he made a sight adjustment and delivered a block that helped protect his quarterback.
“I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there and working hard every week,” Etienne said. “I knew I could run. Being able to block is where I need to get better.”
It’s a sign that it won’t be long before he becomes a name that won’t be forgotten at Clemson.
The Tiger offense does need more than one back, and Swinney used the word “combination” on Saturday concerning Feaster and Etienne.
“His confidence is creeping up,” Swinney said about Etienne. “He’s becoming dependable. We just need him to be a dependable guy without the ball all the time.”
After Saturday’s performance, the youngster has made this one of the most compelling elements to undefeated Clemson’s national title defense.