Quarterbacks, defense highlight Tigers’ spring game
By Alex Maminakis
CLEMSON — There were fireworks early in Clemson’s spring game on Saturday afternoon, likely a preview of what’s to come for the Tigers this fall.
In the annual Orange and White scrimmage at Memorial Stadium, the Orange team beat the White squad 28-17 in front of an announced 55,000 fans.
The main attraction? The quarterbacks.
“Those guys, they can go anywhere in the country and they can win,” Kelly Bryant said of his three fellow quarterbacks after the game. “It’s been really good to see how they compete.”
Freshman Trevor Lawrence didn’t start for the Orange team, but he made a splash as soon as he came in the game.
On his first series, the highly touted freshman was 2-2 passing for 73 yards and a touchdown — a 50-yard pass to Tee Higgins. Lawrence finished the game 11-16 passing for 122 yards, and he took five sacks.
“Hard to start any better than that, to come out and throw a beautiful touchdown pass,” head coach Dabo Swinney said of Lawrence. “He’s a very poised young player… He’s very well groomed and very well prepared to take the next step.”
Bryant, the incumbent starter, started the game for the White team and finished 8-15 passing for 35 yards and took two sacks. Admittedly, his excitement got the best of him on a few overthrows.
Sophomore Hunter Johnson started for the Orange and passed for 85 yards and one touchdown.
Chase Brice, who played the majority of the second half for White, completed 12 passes for 231 yards and one score, along with three interceptions.
Coming into the spring, Swinney said Bryant was the team’s starting quarterback, but the rising senior has competition from the youth behind him.
“I just feel a lot more comfortable having had a year under my belt with the offense,” Johnson said. “Just being a little step faster with my decisions and just being more confident with where I’m going with the ball.”
The amount of talent the Tigers have at the position is obvious, and Swinney said the competition among the four passers will continue into the summer.
“This is just another scrimmage for us to evaluate,” Swinney said. “(Bryant) missed two big throws today that he’s made all spring. But we’ll sit down, we’ll have exit interviews with all those guys. And regardless of what any post-spring depth chart is, it just really doesn’t matter because we don’t play until September.”
Elsewhere on offense, Higgins had a big day for the victorious Orange team with four catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Trevion Thompson was the game’s second-leading receiver with 76 yards and Diondre Overton racked up 71 and a touchdown.
Higgins came on late last year as a freshman and showed on Saturday that he’s solidified himself as a big-play threat for the Tigers.
“It was great, it was just great to get my feet wet again,” Higgins said. “We all just play together. That’s really the biggest things is how we play together and our chemistry… I went out there, kept my head high and just went out there and competed.”
Sophomore Travis Etienne, who led Clemson in rushing yards last season as a freshman, rushed for a game-high 42 on Saturday and found the end zone once. Adam Choice rushed five times for 28 yards and Tavien Feaster ran four times for 11 yards.
On defense, the Tigers collected 12 total sacks, 17 tackles for loss, four interceptions and one fumble recovery — indicative of the all-around threat that the unit will be this fall.
Christian Wilkins, Justin Foster and freshmen K.J. Henry and Darnell Jefferies had sacks for the White team, while Clelin Ferrell, James Skalski, Xavier Kelly and freshman Xavier Thomas picked up sacks for the Orange.
“It was good to go out there and see guys just cut it loose,” Ferrell said. “I was really excited and happy, because guys went out there and weren’t afraid to do stuff, so it was really nice to see.”
A lot can be made of how a team or individual players perform in a spring game, but Swinney and his coaching staff won’t make any final decisions just based on Saturday’s scrimmage.
But Swinney liked what he saw.
“Whatever happened today — it’s just one day when it’s all said and done. But it is a great evaluation piece for us,” he said. “A lot of guys caught my eyes today.”
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