The idea that Clemson’s Orange and White Game on Saturday is one of the most anticipated spring exhibition’s in recent memory is not wrong.
It’s an exciting time. The Tigers have installed a brand new offense under coordinator Garrett Riley this offseason, and it will be on (not quite in full) display for the first time for fans and media members.
With this 1 p.m. spring game will come much dissection and dissertations on the future of the 2023 season. It will be analyzed and overanalyzed. Schemes, structure and whether big plays occur or not will lead to frustrations or jubilations.
But whatever side you fall on Saturday should come with words of caution from the head coach himself.
“That’s a rule for the rest of your life: Don’t let the spring game create too much excitement or too much disappointment,” Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said. “It’s an intersquad-type scrimmage and your team is split up and all that stuff.”
Swinney’s right. There will be left guards playing beside centers they might not ever line up next to again because of guys who are out. There are seven receivers who are either not playing in this game or not even on campus yet.
The defense won’t have its two starting defensive ends – Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll – and quarterbacks won’t be live for contact anyway.
Clemson’s even changing its approach and going with what it considers now more of a first team vs. second team exhibition.
So there will be chance to try to gleam some semblance of what this offense and defense will look like, but spring practice isn’t designed to be the key foundational tool in building a team that will compete for championships in the fall.
It is, though, an important time for individuals.
“What an opportunity for guys to grow and you got some guys getting a bigger roles than maybe what they would have,” Swinney said. “That’s why it’s so important.”
Growing specific players and getting them to understand what will be expected of them on Labor Day night at Duke is the primary goal of spring ball. And yes, that eventually leads to team success.
Saturday plays a role in the process. Spring practices and the way coaches approach them have changed, as has so much of college football.
It’s made spring games even more difficult to find clear takeaways from, but that doesn’t mean they are irrelevant. Instead of reacting to what plays work or which team gives up too many yards, pay attention to the individuals.
Look at how well they move coming off an injury last year or a newcomer like Peter Woods’ footwork and explosiveness. See which offensive linemen look physically ready to help or maybe need more time developing.
Watch how freshman QB Chris Vizzina spins the ball and put less focus on whether he makes the right decision every time or not. See if starting QB Cade Klubnik plays faster mentally and physically.
This is a time for evaluation, not emotion.
With that said, enjoy a beautiful day in Death Valley and soak up as much football as possible. You won’t see these Tigers again until the first Monday of September.
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