CLEMSON — Before kickoff inside the Georgia Dome Saturday night, Clemson running backs coach Tony Elliott approached offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
The subject? Senior tailback Andre Ellington.
“I’m telling you,” Elliott said to Morris. “He’s got a look in his eyes that I’ve never seen.”
“We’ll see,” Morris said.
By game’s end, Elliott was vindicated.
Ellington rushed for a career-high 228 yards on a career high-tying 25 carries in Clemson’s 26-19 win over Auburn. It was the nation’s best opening-week rushing total, and earned him national player of the week honors from the Maxwell Award.
“I was focused,” Ellington said. “I felt like I had a good week of practice, going into that week I felt like I’d never felt before.”
Now, the focus is keeping that mentality and production on a consistent basis. Ellington has yet to play a full, healthy season, which raises the question: is it smart to run him 25 times per game?
In 36 career games entering this season, Ellington had only seven games with 20-plus carries. He averaged 17.1 carries per game as a junior.
“My understanding is that coach Elliott is going to try and get (backups D.J. Howard and Rod McDowell) more (carries), so I can make it through the whole season,” Ellington said.
Morris is confident in Ellington’s durability.
“Whether it takes 26 carries, 32 carries, whatever it takes to win the game,” Morris said. “If it takes 40 carries, that’s fine. He was in our ear on the sideline, saying he could go.”
Ellington said he was “sore” Sunday, which he called normal.
“Obviously, you don’t feel those type of hits until after the game,” he said. “I got in the cold tub and the hot tub, and I feel a lot better today.”
Saturday, Morris said Ellington was completely healthy for the first time in two years. A torn foot ligament ended his sophomore season early, and he struggled with hamstring and ankle injuries throughout last season, missing only one game while rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Ellington missed “all of spring and all of summer” in 2011 rehabbing his foot, but still wasn’t 100 percent “because that offseason he was rehabbing as opposed to preparing.”
“This offseason was all preparation and not rehab,” Swinney said. “He's been spectacular since the day he got here. It was not really shocking at all to see him run like he ran the other night. He's had some big games before. It was special to see him healthy and have that kind of performance and take care of the ball the way he did."
Get down: Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd had 19 carries for 58 yards against Auburn, 88 if you take away sack/fumble yardage. Coaches have pushed him to become a better dual-threat quarterback, but if Boyd keeps up this current pace, he admits he’ll have to work on his landings.
“I’ve gotta slide. I might have to work with the baseball team,” he said jokingly. “At the same time, it was good, I was excited about (running). I feel like it’s something we need in this offense, something I have to go with.”