NEW ORLEANS — The final running play of what had been a record-setting season for Clemson's Travis Etienne ended two yards behind the line of scrimmage.
It was an odd final scene to the running back's junior campaign — and maybe his time at Clemson. Etienne was non-committal about his future early Tuesday morning, in the wake of Clemson's 42-25 defeat to LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship game. But offensive coordinator Tony Elliott acknowledged the junior has a decision to make. And Elliott realizes the Jennings, La., native has a lot at stake.
"He plays a position where longevity is not good," Elliott said. "You really want to make as much money in the NFL on the front end when you are playing a position where it's least likely that you will get a second contract."
If Etienne does decide to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft — he's projected as an early-round selection — he'll leave Clemson as the program's all-time leading rusher (4,038 yards). He snapped Raymond Priester's record with a 5-yard run in the first quarter of Monday's game.
But the championship bout was not one of Etienne's more memorable performances. After catching the game-winning touchdown in Clemson's win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Etienne rushed for 78 yards on 15 carries, with his one touchdown coming on a 6-yard burst early in the third quarter that pulled Clemson to within 28-25.
Coach Dabo Swinney's team would not score again, though, and Etienne would get that last disappointing carry late in the third quarter. Clemson put the onus on quarterback Trevor Lawrence to try to throw the team back into the game in the fourth quarter.
Etienne, who also caught five passes for 36 yards, and reserve running back Darien Rencher stayed on the field for a few moments as LSU celebrated its title.
"We were just in disbelief," said Etienne, who hugged some LSU players during the postgame celebration. Etienne notably chose Clemson over his home-state school in the recruiting process.
Etienne said he will spend the next few days evaluating his future with his family; the deadline to declare for the draft is Friday. But his answer to a question about Clemson's chances next season might offer a hint as to the direction he is leaning.
"Next year's team, No. 125, definitely going to have a lot on their shoulders," he said. "They can't rest on what we've done in the past, because it's a whole new team."
Minutes later Etienne wrapped up his turn at the podium. He hung his head, popped on his headphones. He grabbed his nameplate. He swiped open his iPhone, hit 'play' on Chance the Rapper's 'Acid Rap' album and left the Superdome — and perhaps his college career — behind.