Clemson running back Lyn-J Dixon (23) has found early success as Travis Etienne's backup this season. Gwinn Davis / Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — It'll happen without warning, often during a time when the conversation in the running backs room has shifted to something other than football.

Lyn-J Dixon, a sophomore from rural Butler, Ga., will interject with an obviously fictional story of his own, trying to pass it off as real, sending the room into a fit of laughter and prompting a look from co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott. That's when Dixon comes clean:

"Nah, coach, I'm just joking. I'm just joking. I don't know what y'all are talking about."

Elliott smiled Monday when recalling Dixon's antics.

"Lyn-J is probably one of the funniest young men that'll you ever be around," Elliott said. "And he doesn't even know it."

Dixon is all business on the gridiron, though, and this past Saturday he turned in the most consequential game of his college career. He rushed for a team-high 79 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries in No. 1 Clemson's 24-10 win over then-No. 12 Texas A&M, pushing the offense forward on an evening during which starting running back Travis Etienne struggled to gain momentum.

To be clear, Etienne, last season's ACC Player of the Year, is the Tigers' unquestioned starter. But there's also plenty of room for Dixon.

"Overall, his knowledge of the system has greatly increased, which has allowed the game to slow down," Elliott said of Dixon. "(That) results in him being able to play fast, with and without the ball."

Dixon had mostly been relegated to serving as a situational running back in his career prior to Saturday. That changed, with the Tigers entrusting Dixon to stay on the field for longer periods of time as Etienne gained 53 rushing yards on 16 carries and recorded career highs in receptions (four) and receiving yards (52).

On Clemson's first drive of the fourth quarter, with Texas A&M still within reach, Clemson ran four straight running plays for Dixon, the second of which went for a 19-yard gain. 

"Lyn-J was heating up right there and I wanted to see if he could continue to maintain level of play throughout the course of extended snaps, not just be in a situation," Elliott said. "That was pleasing because now it gives me something to keep him humble, keep him hungry, and also I could use that to push Travis, too."

Coach Dabo Swinney heaped praise on Dixon, noting that the running back is in a similar spot to where Etienne was his sophomore year. 

"We won't hesitate at all to play Lyn-J in any situation, just like we didn't hesitate to play Travis," Swinney said.

"We really motivate each other," Dixon said of him and Etienne. "When we see each other do good, we want to go out there and do good as well. We just motivate each other.

Dixon and Etienne could be due for big performances this Saturday at Syracuse. The Orange surrendered 354 rushing yards to Maryland in a 63-20 loss Saturday.

Elliott cautioned against taking Syracuse too lightly, though. It was only two seasons ago that the Tigers went into the Carrier Dome and got upset.

Dixon was still in high school then, so he didn't experience the disappointment of being on the wrong side of an upset, but perhaps he'll find a way to lighten the mood as Clemson prepares this week. 

"He keeps us on our toes," Elliott said, smiling. 

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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