Third-ranked Clemson encountered only brief resistance in dispatching Louisville on Saturday afternoon to remain firmly in the College Football Playoff picture, but the reigning national champion did weather a brief scare when Travis Etienne limped off the field.

The dynamic tailback came up gimpy following a run early in the fourth quarter. He gingerly walked to the sideline and sat out the remainder of the 45-10 rout at Cardinal Stadium.

Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney indicated Etienne, a junior, could have reentered had the outcome been in doubt.

“It’s feeling better. Just a little stinger,” Etienne told reporters after the game. “My right leg, instant impact, just kind of hurt it a little at that moment. I was kind of walking around on the sideline, and it felt better.”

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Etienne finished with 192 yards, including a 49-yard scoring run late in the third quarter, on 14 carries. It was the most yards for Etienne since he rushed for 205 in the season-opening win against Georgia Tech on Aug. 29.

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After the victory over Georgia Tech, his production had dipped over the next four games until last week, when one of the most elusive running backs in the country amassed 127 yards on a season-high 17 carries in a 45-14 win over Florida State.

“He’s really come out the last two weeks and really has put it on the line,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott told reporters. “I think that’s great for him, and it’s also great for those young backs to see what it looks like. He had great leadership in [former Clemson running back] Adam Choice last year. This is a new frontier for him.

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“So being able to play at a high level and lead at a high level, that’s a difficult challenge.”

Etienne has made a habit out of feasting on the Cardinals, gaining 443 yards in three games against the Tigers’ ACC Atlantic Division opponent. He’s averaging 15.8 yards in those games, all victories.

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Elliott earlier this week indicated he had installed more designed runs for Etienne heading into the game against the Seminoles, essentially eliminating the pass option in the Tigers’ RPO attack.

Etienne has 781 yards and six touchdowns on 98 carries this season for the No. 1 rushing team in the ACC.

Last year he rushed for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns on 204 carries and finished seventh in voting for the Heisman Trophy. In last season’s College Football Playoff championship game, Etienne had 86 yards and two touchdowns in Clemson’s 44-16 win against Alabama.

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“He could have came back in [against Louisville],” Elliott said. “We were in a situation where we didn’t need him. He’s kind of banged up, so he’s got a couple things going on with him. Nothing major, and it’s typical of a running back. Every play something’s going to hurt.”

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