CLEMSON -- Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott won't go to the Sugar Bowl due to COVID-19 protocols.
The team announced on Wednesday that Elliott, who is also the running backs coach, would not travel with the team to New Orleans and would be unavailable when the second-ranked Tigers face No. 3 Ohio State on Friday in a College Football Playoff semifinal. It did not say if he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
There was no immediate word on whether one person such as quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter or a group of offensive assistants would collaborate on the game plan against the Buckeyes.
Elliott, a former Clemson wide receiver, has been on head coach Dabo Swinney's staff since 2011. He was co-offensive coordinator with Jeff Scott from 2015 through last season, when Scott became South Florida's head coach.
Clemson's offense led the Atlantic Coast Conference at 44.9 points a game and with 343.8 yards passing per game this season.
While Elliott won't be in the Super Dome, Travis Etienne will be. And while his rushing total alone this season tells a disappointing story, the Clemson senior tailback believes there is a more positive tale that has made his decision to return to school for a final year well worth it.
Etienne finished last season as the 2-time reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He was - and is - a speedy, powerful runner who had totaled 4,038 yards and 56 touchdowns as he led the team in rushing in each of his three years.
He was National Football League ready, but instead of heading to the pros, Etienne made another of his signature moves fans gasp at and returned to the Tigers for his senior season.
It all sounded good, but he's got 882 yards, little more than half his totals of the previous two years. But for Etienne, the numbers don't tell the story.
"Coming back, I feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish," he said. "I've grown as a player in so many ways, you wouldn't understand."
Swinney said Etienne's choice in the wake of the team's disheartening, 42-25 loss to Louisiana State in last year's national title game was one of a mature player understanding his shortcomings and wanting to improve.
He get to showcase those improvements when the Tigers (10-1, CFP No. 2) face No. 3 Ohio State (6-0; CFP No. 3).
Etienne had gotten a second-round grade from the NFL's underclassmen advisory panel - good, just not good enough for Etienne.
He understood he needed to improve in pass protection and become more of a threat on the outside. Mission accomplished. He has a career high 44 catches for 524 yards, the most ever gained receiving by a back at Clemson. He's also led the Tigers with a 24.3-yard average on kickoff returns this season.
"I feel I've proven that I'm an all-around back, first-, second- and third-down back, that can be on the field at any time in the game," he said. "I feel more complete than I was."
That versatility was evident to others, too, as Etienne was named this week a first-team AP All-America at all-purpose player.
"Really proud of Travis and how he's embraced the challenge," Elliott said.
Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner said Etienne's versatility stands out on film, even more than last year.
"He's so versatile with the way he can attack you," Werner said. "He can beat defenses whether they're running the ball or passing the ball, they're both threats."
Etienne's change may have started in last year's CFP semifinal as the Buckeyes keyed in on stopping the run. Etienne had only 36 yards rushing, but he led the Tigers with 98 yards and two touchdowns receiving in a 29-23 win at the Fiesta Bowl.
Elliott acknowledged defenses are loading up front to stop Clemson's run and the Tigers' offensive line, with four first-time starters, has not always been as stout as in Etienne's earlier seasons.
At times, "we can't get going before there is that contact on Travis," Elliott said. "So it's just a combination of things."
It's hard to knock Etienne's milestones. The 5-foot-10-inch, 205-pound senior from Jennings, Louisiana, was a late addition to Clemson's 2017 recruiting class when another tailback prospect went elsewhere. He quickly rose as the Tigers' featured back and has become the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading rusher, surpassing a mark held by North Carolina State's Ted Brown since 1978.
Etienne is also the league's career leader in rushing touchdowns and total TDs.
He is very satisfied with how his season has gone. Etienne came back, he said, to graduate (he got his degree in sports communication in December) and to set the right example for his younger brother, Trevor, a junior at Jennings High in Louisiana.
The younger Etienne has scholarship offers from several schools, including Clemson, Alabama, Florida, Florida State and LSU.
"Knowing that he's going to go through this process, I just want to know I was the best role model for him," Travis Etienne said.
Etienne hopes to finish the season with another national title before starting his pro career.
"Me coming back was the best thing for me," he said. "And I made the most out of it."
SUGAR BOWL PREVIEW CAPSULE
No. 2 Clemson (10-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (6-0), Jan. 1, 8:45 p.m. Eastern (ESPN)
Line: Clemson by 7
Series record: Clemson leads 4-0
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The winner will advance to the championship game to face the winner of the Alabama-Notre Dame semifinal. Ohio State got in to the playoff despite playing only six games this season because of COVID-19 issues. It is a CFP semifinal rematch: The Tigers beat Ohio State 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl last year to advance to the championship game.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence vs. Ohio State secondary. Lawrence is a Heisman Trophy finalist who came back hot after missing time with COVID-19. The Buckeyes have been vulnerable to the pass at times, especially in the second half, but picked off Northwestern's Payton Ramsey twice in their 22-10 Big Ten championship game victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Clemson: RB Travis Etienne has again been a reliable weapon for head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers. He rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown in Clemson’s 34-10 win over Notre Dame in the ACC championship game.
Ohio State: RB Trey Sermon, a transfer from Oklahoma, had a breakout game in the Big Ten championship, rushing for an Ohio State record 331 yards and two touchdowns.
FACTS & FIGURES
The Buckeyes wrapped up their fourth straight Big Ten title with the win over Northwestern. ... Ohio State QB Justin Fields had a season-low 114 passing yards against Northwestern after a thumb injury hampered his throwing. He also threw two interceptions. … In the win over Notre Dame, Lawrence overcame an early interception and completed 25 of 36 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. ... Ohio State placekicker Blake Haubiel, who was hampered by a groin injury earlier in the season, converted three of four field goal attempts against Northwestern.
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