Clemson, SC – It didn’t matter who threw the ball.
Tee Higgins was going to dominate defensive backs and win jump balls over the defensive backs assigned to cover him.
Moreover, it didn’t matter if it was last year’s favorite backup quarterback in rising sophomore Hunter Johnson or this year’s favorite backup quarterback in true freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence. The dominance of the ‘9’ wide receiver down the field was an example of the talent Clemson recruits and the value that a big deep threat brings to the offense.
The score was 28-17 in favor of the Orange Team, but the only consequence of the score is that the Orange team team gets to sleep in Monday morning. As the adage about the NFL preseason goes, everything matters except the final score.
Clemson has four quarterbacks capable of leading the Tigers back to the playoffs, but the question is which of the four (if any) are capable of leading the Tigers back to the podium after the National Championship.
Kelly Bryant did not have the best spring game, completing 8 of his 15 passes for 35 yards. But Kelly Bryant has what the other quarterbacks don’t – freaky athleticism on the ground, off the charts natural leadership, and a season’s worth of tape to show that he can lead Clemson to victory. Don’t forget that Bryant rebounded from an injury-riddled Spring Game performance last year to take the job and never look back.
When Kelly Bryant was hurt, the fans clamored for Hunter Johnson. He showed flashes of what he can do in the season and continued building his resume today with a solid performance. His first play attempt was a 37-yard bomb to Tee Higgins and his lone touchdown throw was to Tee Higgins for 18 yards. He threw an interception to pair with his touchdown, and he finished the day 8 for 14 with 85 passing yards and a score.
The forgotten man last year was Chase Brice – as an early enrollee he was left out of the three-man quarterback conversations. He made his mark on the Spring game, ensuring that the competiton for backup quarterback will remain a three-man race.
His gunslinger mentality caused him to throw three interceptions, but it also showed his willingness to throw into tight windows: throwing a 50 (TD) and 43-yard pass, with three more passes completed passes over 20 yards – and that is not counting a couple of dropped touchdown passes. His final stat line was 12 for 19 with one score and a trio of interceptions, but throwing for 231 yards in the process.
Trevor Lawrence put on a show that only fueled the hype surrounding him – throwing a 50-yard score to tee Higgins on the second play of the game, and putting on the most consistent performance of the day by finishing 11 for 16 for 122 yards and a score.
Regardless of who starts this year, Clemson is the embarrassment of quarterback riches in college football.
While the spring game creates odd situations, there is value in drawing conclusions about individual players’ ability and improvement from previous years.
Trevion Thompson had four catches for 76 yards – including an incredible 27-yard catch on the sideline with a defensive back draped over him. Adam Choice and Travis Etienne looked impressive on their limited rushing attempts. Diondre Overton was another overlooked veteran with an excellent game – his highlight was a 50-yard touchdown catch from Chase Brice.
Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry recorded two “sacks” apiece (the defenses had 12 total) – although they had an advantage going against a split offensive line, they showcased their athleticism and talent as true freshmen.
Trayvon Mullen turned one of his two interceptions into a pick-six, while AJ Terrell and K’Von Wallace had one interception each. James Skalski (Orange) and Baylon Spector (White) were the leading tacklers for each side. Christian Wilkins also had a tackle for loss on a blitz where he lined up as a safety.
The plays and stats are not what matters in the spring game, it is the flashes of talent that rise to the occasion. Clemson fans saw the future of the team – and the future is bright.