CLEMSON — Spring practice came to a close as Clemson held the annual Orange and White scrimmage on Saturday in Death Valley.
A fourth quarter pick six by freshman Khalil Barnes gave the White team a 20-13 win in the intrasquad scrimmage in front of an announced crowd of 50K fans.
As with any scrimmage, there was some good and bad, and here’s what stood out in the Clemson spring game on Saturday:
New Offense: There were more than 60 pass attempts and more than 60 rushes in the game. While the debut of Garret Riley’s variation of the Air Raid in Clemson wasn’t perfect by any stretch, it was balanced. We also saw some tempo. Cade Klubnik finished the day 18-of-33 for 190 yards and seems to have a good grasp on the new system. Klubnik’s athleticism and speed was also on display at times. With Will Shipley out, Phil Mafah, Dominique Thomas and Keith Adams Jr. got the bulk of the work on the ground, with all three scoring a touchdown.
Salty Defense: Yes, it is a spring game, but this defense looks legit. And on all three levels. The pass rush was there. And that was without Ruke Orhorhoro, Payton Page and Tre Williams. The linebackers are exactly what was expected. Even the secondary, which was a liability at times last season, turned in an impressive performance. Coverage was tight and defensive backs were getting hands on balls. There were 11 passes broken up between the two teams and four interceptions.
Andrew Mukuba looks to have returned to freshman form, Nate Wiggins showed some consistency, Toriano Pride looks improved, and Barnes looked like anything but a freshman. Most would probably agree that the defense didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations a season ago, but Saturday looked like it might have been a step back towards being elite.
Early Enrollees Shine: The midyears were making plays all afternoon. All four of those defensive linemen were impressive. Peter Woods was manhandling offensive linemen, and he even blocked an extra point. Stephiylan Green and Vic Burley both look the part, as well. T.J. Parker looks like he is going to hard to keep off of the field at end, as does Barnes and Shelton Lewis on the backend. Harris Sewell more than held his own along the offensive line. All bright spots.
Utilizing Middle of Field: While it was undoubtedly a fairly vanilla game plan offensively, and there weren’t a ton of shots taken downfield, one thing we did see on Saturday was an effort to attack the middle of the field. There were some crossing routes.
The tight ends combined for double-digit catches. Jake Briningstool looks primed to take a big jump in 2023 after reeling in three catches for 56 yards. Utilizing the middle of the field is something fans have been clamoring for in recent seasons, and with the new offense, it appears that is indeed the plan.
Klubnik Still Has Some Work to Do: The sophomore quarterback was mostly solid but at times he is still holding on to the ball to long. One time in the first half he had Cole Turner open down the field but was a tad late getting the ball off. If thrown on time, that is probably a touchdown, but instead it was broken up. He had a ball picked off inside the five-yard line in which he didn’t put enough air under it, allowing it to be tipped. Just some minor things, but still things that need to be cleaned up.
Still Questions at Wideout: Antonio Williams, Brannon Spector and Turner were the only scholarship receivers with experience that were available, and it showed. The three combined for 10 catches but just 60 yards. Freshman Noble Johnson hauled in two passes, one that went for 18 yards, but it is obvious he is still learning. This offense needs a healthy Beaux Collins and Adam Randall. It needs the speed a healthy Troy Stellato can provide. If there is a position in which the Tigers can not afford to be hit with the injury bug once fall camp starts, it is receiver.
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