CLEMSON — This is all still a little bit unbelievable for Travis Etienne, the small-town kid from Jennings, La. When the Clemson running back breaks loose for a big gain, he looks up and watches himself on the video board, both to track trailing defenders and to remind himself what's happening is real.
Early in the second quarter Saturday, the big screen facing Death Valley's east end zone showed Etienne running untouched into the end zone — and the history books. With his 86-yard scamper in Clemson's 59-14 blowout of FCS foe Wofford, Etienne set a new program record for rushing touchdowns (48).
The junior made more history on Clemson's next possession. With a 23-yard run, he became the first Tigers player to record three career games of 200 or more rushing yards.
Etienne finished with a career-high 212 rushing yards and two touchdowns on nine carries Saturday, in addition to recording one catch for 23 yards before departing with the game out of reach.
But with three games remaining in the regular season, the junior was hardly ready to bask in his personal accomplishments.
"Once I leave, maybe (when) I grow old and I look back on it, I'll see how amazing it was," Etienne said.
In the wake of the Tigers' 21-20 win at North Carolina on Sept. 28, an early scare in a season otherwise full of Clemson blowouts, Etienne rushed for just 67 yards on 14 carries and struggled in pass protection. Swinney challenged Etienne to perform better in the two weeks leading up to the Tigers' next game, against Florida State on Oct. 12.
"Just telling me to get the eye of the tiger back," Etienne said of Swinney's message.
The running back has been tough to bring down since. He rushed for 127 yards against the Seminoles, 192 yards and a touchdown at Louisville and 109 yards and three touchdowns against Boston College last week. He then averaged 23.6 yards per carry Saturday in the Wofford rout.
Co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott normally refrains from saying his players "deserve" success. He encourages them to "earn" what they seek, in effect triggering a more self-reliant mindset.
Saturday he made an exception for Etienne, the star who acts like anything but one.
"If there's anybody that's deserving of it," Elliott said. "it's Travis."