3 questions about the Clemson Football running backs this spring

Phil Mafah is the feature back for the Tigers this fall, but this spring we could learn a little more about who is most likely to be his primary back-up.
Clemson running back Phil Mafah (7)
Clemson running back Phil Mafah (7) / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Spring training started this week for Clemson Football. Will Shipley has moved on to the NFL Draft, so we will see a different dynamic in the backfield than we have seen for the past three seasons. Here are three things I will be paying attention to with the running backs this spring.

How much will the Tigers feed Phil Mafah?

Shipley was a solid running back, and for most of his time with Clemson, he was considered the first option, with Phil Mafah as the second-stringer. That changed a bit during the 2023 season.

Mafah turned out to be the hotter hand just as often as Shipley, yet didn’t seem to be getting as many carriers, to the consternation of several fans. When Shipley was injured and unavailable for the Notre Dame game, Mafah became the feature back, and he made the most of it.

Mafah rushed for a career-high 186 yards on 36 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. The offensive line changed their blocking scheme to simplify things. That was a factor. There were also games after this where Shipley was the hot hand. Nonetheless, Mafah’s performance against the Irish has fans drooling for what he might accomplish as the lone feature back in 2024.

Will Clemson feed him the ball the way they did last November? Not likely. It just isn’t in their playbook to run a single back 30-40 times a game, even if it isn’t a two-back system. The Tigers want to be strong in the run game but they also want to be balanced.

It will also depend on the offensive line. I have been pounding the table most springs for the offense to put a stronger lean towards the run game to utilize their best weapons and minimize their deficiencies at quarterback and receiver, but every season the offensive line becomes a liability. Will that change under Matt Luke? My answer is yes, but I am not sure how quickly it will change.

I think Mafah gets the rock his fair share but I don’t expect that the dirt raid becomes ground & pound regularly.

Next: Is Jay Haynes ready to emerge?