CLEMSON — Andre Ellington made the case that he was Clemson's most valuable player last year when he watched from the sideline as the Tigers' perfect season come to an end in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
Without Ellington, who had injured his ankle a week earlier, the Tigers struggled to run the ball last year against the Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets were more aggressive on defense, bringing pressure because Ellington was not in the backfield to pass block. Ball security became an issue, with backups Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard each losing fumbles.
Clemson was 0-4 last season when Ellington carried the ball 13 or fewer times. The good news for No. 15 Clemson (4-1, 1-1 ACC) is Ellington enters October and today's game against Georgia Tech as healthy has he's been since 2010. He's averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has rushed for 515 yards in five games.
He meets a Georgia Tech rushing defense that is allowing 4.6 yards per carry, ranking 92nd in the country.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris knows what life is like with and without Ellington.
“(Georgia Tech) knew Andre wasn't playing last year and they were going to place a lot of pressure on our young running backs and see if they could pass protect,” Morris said. “The second thing was seeing how a young quarterback would respond from pressure.”
Clemson had five turnovers in the game.
Without offensive balance, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd forced throws in a crowded secondary resulting in three interceptions.
Ellington also keeps the chains moving, crucial if the Tigers are going to win the time of possession battle. It will be needed today to keep Clemson's defense rested as it faces the Georgia Tech flexbone offense, which is averaging 39.2 points per game and ranks third in the nation with 329 rushing yards per game.
It is the Georgia Tech offense that has perplexed Clemson, which has lost four of the last five games with the Yellow Jackets.
Clemson has managed Ellington's workload this season — he is averaging 18.4 carries per game — but Ellington said he is more durable this year because of his offseason workouts.
“I worked my butt off in the offseason,” said Ellington, the former Berkeley High School standout. “We train different parts of the body. We do a lot of sprint work that helps out with the ankle and fast-twitch muscles.”
He is just 130 yards from becoming the fifth 3,000-yard rusher in program history. He would need to average 137 yards a game to catch school leader Raymond Priester (3,966 yards).
“He's a special player,” Clemson center Dalton Freeman said. “We're glad he's on our team.”