Travis Etienne really wants to win.
Even at bingo.
Clemson and Ohio State aren’t getting the traditional bowl week of football and Lord knows what else in New Orleans in advance of Friday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl. Clemson flew into town Wednesday, but Ohio State doesn’t arrive until Thursday, basically making this the equivalent of a regular-season road game for both teams.
Back home, the Tigers and Buckeyes tried to liven things up with on-campus activities. One night at Clemson was bingo night.
There were four rounds of Vegas-like gaming (not really), but Etienne was still steamed that he didn’t win.
“I feel like my card was kind of rigged,” he said.
Of course, the game he wants to win is Friday when the Tigers take on the Buckeyes for the second straight year in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
There is a strong desire to win on both sides, but an added bit of urgency for Etienne. First of all, he’s a Louisiana native, born and raised in Jennings, about 2½ hours west of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where Friday night’s drama will be played out.
Secondly, he’s never won in the Superdome. As a freshman on New Year’s Day 2018, Etienne and Clemson’s offense were stuffed inside a discarded souvenir cup in a 24-6 loss to Alabama, which went on to beat Georgia for the national championship. On Jan. 13, Etienne and the Tigers were back, but it was the other Tigers, of the LSU stripe, the school he spurned to go run all over the ACC for four years, who won the championship with a decisive 42-25 victory.
Now Etienne is back, and hoping to lead Clemson to a third straight trip to the national championship game and an unprecedented third CFP national title.
“It’s a great opportunity I have and I’m very thankful for it,” Etienne said Tuesday during a video news conference. “I’m just ready to get to that point and try to make it right. I’m just ready for the game.”
Etienne has rarely not been ready in a college career which is nearing its end in a blaze of record-setting glory.
Etienne enters the Sugar Bowl already ranking as the top rusher in Atlantic Coast Conference history with 4,920 yards. He broke the previous mark of 4,602 yards set in 1978 by North Carolina State’s Ted Brown while playing under Bo Rein (Rein left N.C. State in 1979 to take the job at LSU but died soon after in a plane crash returning from a recruiting trip). Etienne also holds the ACC record for career rushing touchdowns with 69 – one more touchdown would give him 468 career points and break the ACC scoring record of 466 set in 2012 by Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins.
Nationally, Etienne ranks fifth in career touchdowns among FBS players with 77, while his 69 rushing TDs ranks him sixth overall. In terms of career scoring for all FBS players, Etienne is tied for ninth with former Baton Rouge Woodlawn and Louisiana Tech kicker Jonathan Barnes.
Etienne knows adding much to his career totals against Ohio State won’t be easy. The Buckeyes’ defense is to the running game what the Berlin Wall was to defecting East Germans. In last December’s Fiesta Bowl, Clemson won 29-23 in that national semifinal but Etienne only got 36 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He was his team’s leading receiver, though, with three catches for 98 yards and two scores, including a game-winning 34-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Lawrence with 1:49 remaining.
The key, Etienne said, will be making plays however he can.
“They’re in that eight-man front every time and they’re structured to stop the run,” said Etienne, who has earned first-team All-America honors as an all-purpose back from The Associated Press and Football Writers Association of America. “So we have to find ways to get me the ball, get me in space and let me be effective. I feel my coaches have really done that.”
Despite restrictions on indoor gatherings in New Orleans limiting the crowd for the Sugar Bowl to about 3,000 fans, Etienne said he will have almost 20 tickets for the game. Surprisingly, it’s close to the same number he had for the championship game in January.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Etienne said. “I’m very grateful they’re going to get to see me play in the Superdome.”
He hopes they see him win, and finish his career playing for one more national title.
Now that would be a bingo.