CLEMSON — Quietly, Andre Ellington has accomplished much of what he set out to do by returning for his senior season of college football.
Clemson’s senior tailback has rushed for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games and has largely stayed healthy; he’s averaged 85.9 yards per game despite leaving the Duke game following the first play with a hamstring tweak and sitting the fourth quarter of numerous blowouts for younger backs.
He has caught 13 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, adding 153 kick return yards while showing overall versatility.
Still, Ellington hasn’t won a bowl game since his freshman season – a Music City Bowl victory over Kentucky. He badly wants to snap the program’s two-game bowl losing streak when No.14 Clemson (10-2) takes on No.9 LSU (10-2) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re still trying to finish that up,” Ellington said last week. “I’m trying to go out for my last game on Dec. 31 and get a win.”
A year ago, Ellington and Clemson finished on a sour note. The Tigers’ offense was driving to tie the Orange Bowl late in the second quarter against West Virginia when Ellington was stripped at the half-yard line, with a Mountaineer defender rumbling 99 yards for a touchdown.
Clemson never recovered in a stunning 70-33 loss.
“Our main focus is to go out there and play our best game,” Ellington said. “The games we’ve played in the past, we haven’t executed the way we wanted to. Hopefully we’ll go in and play our best game.”
He’ll face a major challenge in LSU’s defense. The Bayou Bengals are ranked eighth nationally in total defense (296.3 ypg) and ninth in rush defense (101.8 ypg).
LSU features a pair of talented junior defensive ends in Barkevious Mingo and Greenwood native Sam Montgomery. Mingo is rated as the No.6 overall NFL draft prospect by ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., who ranks Greenwood 21st overall.
“They’re a physical bunch,” Ellington said of LSU. “They’re a lot similar to South Carolina. They go around and put 11 hats to the ball.”
Success in the trenches is crucial, he said.
“That’s where it’s going to start, up front, who can win the line of scrimmage,” he said. “Once you get that established all that will work out for itself.”
Kiper said Ellington projects as a third to fourth-round selection, saying he can impact a team immediately.
“I’m going to enjoy every day (of bowl preparation),” he said. “The next step, I’m prepared for it but it’s not going to be like college. I’m out there with my brothers preparing for it every day. “
The Chick-fil-A Bowl represents a season bookend for Ellington, and he hopes it’ll be just as happy as the season opener against Auburn. That night, he rushed for a career-high 228 yards on 25 carries in Clemson’s 26-19 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic win over Auburn.
“It’s real important,” he said. “Not for myself, but for the program. We’ve come a long way and we don’t want to fall short at the end of the year. We want to come out on top.”