Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn’t hesitate when asked recently if running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper were talented enough to be the program’s next “Thunder and Lightening” duo, following in the footsteps of former players C.J. Spiller and James Davis.
“Absolutely,” Swinney said. “No doubt.”
Technically, though, Ellington and Harper refer to themselves as “the New Storm.”
But they still have to prove it, starting Saturday at Auburn.
“They have not really been challenged yet against an opponent that’s hit them for 60 minutes,” Swinney said. “Being able to sustain throughout the game, the physical play that we want, that’s the thing I’m looking for from them. … They’re going to have to prove their salt with durability.”
They’ll get their chance on Saturday, when Clemson will face a rushing defense that has allowed just 80 yards per game in two wins. In the 35-10 season-opening win over North Texas, Clemson averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per rush. On the first offensive play, Ellington took off for a 60-yard touchdown run. It took him 16 seconds into the season to score. Spiller scored 14 seconds into the 2009 season with a kickoff return against Middle Tennessee.
Clemson’s win over the Mean Green marked the first time since the 2007 Maryland game that Clemson had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game. That year, Davis had 129 and Spiller had 106 in the win over the Terps. Against North Texas, Ellington had 12 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns while Harper had nine carries for 101 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Ellington said he and Harper, who both averaged over 10 yards per carry in the season opener, have already earned the title of Clemson’s next great duo, “just by all of the hard work we put in.”
“We’ve got more composure now, we’re more confident,” he said. “We know a lot more about what we’re doing out there, as opposed to watching another guy perform and then go off of what he’s doing. We’re in the driver’s seat, I guess you could say.”
They’re going to have to be, as both of their snaps will increase along with the competition. They both played sparingly against Presbyterian, with just 14 combined snaps. Swinney said their strength isn’t a question. Ellington is about 192 pounds, and Harper is up to 234 pounds after adding about eight pounds of lean muscle mass this summer.
“We’re asking a lot more out of their role, and to this point, they just have not played the amount of snaps they’re going to have to play,” Swinney said. “That’s the one thing I’m anxious to see -- can they sustain it all the way for four quarters or however long it takes to finish the game.”
Harper and Ellington now have 1,286 combined yards in 209 attempts for their careers, a 6.15 average. Davis and Spiller had 7,428 combined rushing yards in 1359 combined attempts for a 5.47 average.
Harper said he and Ellington can keep it up.
“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “We just have to go out there and show [Swinney] along with the rest of the world. We’re definitely the next top tandem. C.J. and James Davis, they did a terrific job of setting the stage as far as tandems of running backs, especially at Clemson, and we’re just following those guys and trying to make ourselves be known just as well as they were.”
If they do, it could be the perfect storm for the Tigers’ offense.