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Clemson Spring Game Film Review: 1st Quarter

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Guess what everyone is going to talk about until September.

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NCAA Football: Clemson Spring Game Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

So about that quarterback competition...

Yeah, I’ll have a helping or two of some fine tasty crow now. We need to be careful not to make knee-jerk reactions after our only glimpse of the quarterbacks in a spring with 15 unseen practices, but it’s impossible to discount what we saw from all four quarterbacks Saturday. Trevor Lawrence looked like the missing piece for what was a vertically challenged offense in 2017, Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice (despite his three interceptions) looked capable, and Kelly Bryant, well, looked like he regressed. Horribly.

Bryant is certainly at a disadvantage when quarterbacks are not live, but his inaccuracy from a clean pocket Saturday was glaring. It seemed worse, in fact, than at any point last year. His mechanics and delivery are still awkward and elongated, but I do not think he regressed as much as simply had a bad day. It remains likely he starts in September, but moving beyond that I am no longer firm in my belief he will start throughout 2018. Quite the opposite.

I am all aboard the Lawrence hype train. We knew about the arm strength, but the accuracy in every type of throw plus his outstanding pocket presence (sack figures are misleading) impressed me mightily. I still think Clemson will win 12 or 13 games (as in ACC champs and another playoff appearance) with Bryant at QB throughout the year; the roster is that good and the schedule that easy. But Clemson won’t win 14 or 15 games with Bryant at the helm. I said as much before the spring game, and figured Lawrence or Johnson would need to take over in the postseason when Clemson faces an elite defense, a la Tua Tagovailoa in last year’s CFP final, in order to win a semifinal match-up against the likes of Ohio State or Alabama.

So here’s my one knee-jerk: it seems apparent the Lawrence era will begin sooner rather than later. But once it does, I think Bryant can have a role in short yardage and red zone sets, like Tyrone Swoopes at Texas a few years ago. Two areas in which the Clemson offense was deceptively good a year ago were in short yardage and especially red zone touchdown rate, due in large part to Bryant running QB counter so well when tough yards were needed.

There’s a long way to go before this quarterback battle is settled. But the Lawrence hype is real and there’s now tangible, visible evidence that the ceiling for this team is astronomically higher than it was a year ago.

This is probably the longest quarter I’ve ever reviewed with all the 3 & outs and clock stoppages, so there are like 37 drive tables. Rather than throw in gifs between them, simply follow along here:

Orange ball, Johnson QB, Orange 35

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Go route to Higgins vs man cover 1, Higgins beats Terrell at the line and makes an impressive catch along the sideline, gain of 38. Higgins showing immediately why he is the alpha at boundary; we lacked these sorts of catches from the boundary unit a year ago.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Counter handoff to Feaster, Simmons flies in from Sam to limit the carry to 2 yards. Simmons will be a terror in the front 7 but I'm eager to see how he performs in man coverage.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO keeper vs cover 4, Johnson eludes a rush and checks down to Rodgers unguarded in the flat, gain of 15 but called back due to ineligible receiver downfield. Coverage bust on Simmons, he carried Chase up the seam while Fields also bailed, leaving two men covering Chase's corner route and Rodgers wide open.
2nd & 13 11 shotgun (TE flex) vs 4-3 Quick weak side swing screen to Feaster batted down, incomplete. Good play design would've had yardage with defense stacked to strong side.
3rd & 13 11 shotgun (2x2 TE flex) vs 4-3 Man cover 2, Bryant gets pressure on Johnson who throws across the middle off his back foot, dig route almost reeled in by Rodgers but knocked loose, PUNT. Poor pocket presence and a dangerous throw. Why punt from the 31 in a spring game?

White ball, Bryant QB, 13:35, White 20

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Quick swing to Etienne gains 1, Renfrow couldn't hold his block on Wallace. Essentially a handoff, Etienne had space but Wallace overpowered Renfrow (Mighty Oculus forgive my blasphemy).
2nd & 9 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Tunnel screen to Renfrow vs soft man cover 1 Sam fire, Renfrow cuts in but Wallace breaks him down and help arrives, gain of 4. Two easy passes, two easy completions to playmakers in space though little was gained. Bryant sailed these throws many times last year.
3rd & 5 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Deep hitch to Overton vs tight cover 4, Mullen was in perfect position and Overton never had a chance, PUNT. This was a single read pass thrown into tight coverage, inaccurately at that.

Orange ball, Lawrence QB, 12:30, Orange 27

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 ZR handoff to Feaster vs Sam fire, Simmons was on Feaster the whole way and Lawrence should've kept. Nobody is perfect.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Curl/out route to Smith complete vs cover 4, Simmons blew flat coverage again by manning up on the slot, leaving the flat completely unguarded. Disappointing start from Simmons thus far, who seems to be playing the position more like a safety.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Fake option pass go route to Higgins vs cover 4 complete over Fields, TOUCHDOWN. Higgins wasn't the primary but Lawrence identified the safety manipulation from the run fake, readjusted his feet and delievered a bomb. QB battle is on.

White ball, Bryant QB, 11:29, White 18

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 ZR dive to Choice gains 4, moved the pile. Good eyes from Jordan Williams to not get sealed and make the stop.
2nd & 6 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Weak side swing screen to Choice vs cover 3, gain of 3 Read by the underneath safety Cote immediately, impressive open field tackle.
3rd & 3 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Cover 3 Sam fire, Richard breaks open on a corner route, horribly overthrown. LeAnthony Williams played man instead of covering his deep third, but Richard would've likely been open anyway. Inexcusable overthrow from a clean pocket.

Orange ball, Johnson QB, 10:15, Orange 24

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO handoff vs cover 3, gain of 5. Simpson created a big hole in the B gap, good to see.
2nd & 5 11 shotgun vs 4-3 under Cover 3 fire zone (Sam fire, WDE drop) PA rollout, deep out to Chase incomplete. Nice to see the fire zone show up in a spring game; Henry looked quick dropping into flat coverage.
3rd & 5 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Back shoulder curl to Higgins vs tight man from Terrell, Higgins is a cheat code, complete for 10. Man-crush validated. Higgins wasn't even open when Johnson threw it but he made himself open mid-flight.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Jet motion ZR, fumbled mesh recovered for a loss of 1. Both wanted to keep because both likely had decent yardage.
2nd & 11 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Bubble screen to Rodgers vs cover 3, gain of 3. Rodgers is quicker and shiftier than Artavis Scott but Scott never once went down on first contact.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Dropback vs cover 4, Wilkins wraps inside and pushes Cervenka on his butt, "sack" PUNT. Wilkins has to be the most fun defender I've ever watched.

White ball, Bryant QB, 7:02, White 19

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Wheel route to Richard vs man cover 1, wide open against a walk on safety but again wildly overthrown. Inexcusable. Bryant isn't going to fix his mechanics and awkward, elongated delivery but this is an easy throw any scholarship quarterback should hit.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Delayed dive to Etienne, swallowed up by Huggins immediately by Etienne breaks free and bounces outside for 3.
3rd & 7 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Renfrow beats Williams (no surprise) up the seam against man cover 1 but Bryant air mails it out of reach... Well here's why Williams isn't the answer at Sam.

Orange ball, Lawrence QB, 6:20, Orange 31

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 ZR dive to Rencher agains cover 3 BCB blitz, gain of 4. Love seeing a corner blitz against Lawrence.
2nd & 7 11 shotgunv s 4-3 Dropback vs cover 4, pocket collapses and Lawrence tucks up the middle, loss of 1. OL is actually holding up fairly well, easy touch sack for Wilkins as Lawrence ran past him.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Nobody open against cover 4, Lawrence scrambles and throws to Higgins on the sideline, incomplete. Good pocket presence and movement from Lawrence, catchable ball but Terrell had Higgins blanketed.

White turnover on the punt, Orange recovers but it’s technically a new drive.

Orange ball, Johnson QB, 5:06, White 20

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Jet sweep pass to Rodgers never had a chance, blown up by Joseph for a loss of 2. Disappointing effort from Garrett Williams, who we thought was the best blocker at TE. Abysmal block.
2nd & 12 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Swing pass to Feaster vs man cover 1 double LB bullets, good pursuit from Joseph who makes first contact, gain of 4.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Back shoulder to Higgins vs tight cover 4, Higgins again is a cheat code and breaks into the endzone from the 5. Simmons played man coverage again, covering Chase's corner route instead of protecting the flat...

White ball, Brice QB, 3:53, White 22

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 ZR dive to Choice, hole up the A gap cleared by Falcinelli, gain of 9. Excellent burst from Choice, who we rarely get to see much burst from.
2nd & 1 11 shotgun vs 4-3 ZR dive, this time an excellent seal in the B gap, gain of 6. First time we've seen this much tempo from the offenses today.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Counter jet motion bucksweep to Choice, SWINNEY SEALS THE EDGE ON SHAQ SMITH, easy yardage down the sideline, 9 more. I like the play design, running away from the motion and clearing the weak side edge which only needed a crack block on the Will.
2nd & 1 11 shotgun vs 4-3 PA rollout pass to Chalk, gain of 7. Xavier Thomas sighting, he let Chalk slip out in his pursuit of Brice
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Rollout vs man cover 1 Sam fire, Brice tucks and cuts inside, tagged after a gain of 2. Brice looks niftier and more comfortable than I expected in our first glimpse at him.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Jet motion counter to Etienne brought down from behind by Jordan Williams, no gain. Great backside pursuit from Ferrell; Jordan Williams used arm extension well to keep himself free and split the line when Etienne arrived.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Deep out to Kendrick vs soft cover 3, Kendrick makes a clean catch and spins past LeAnthony Williams, gain of 21. Disappointing effort from Williams, who doesn't yet look ready to contribute. I'm excited to see Kendrick emerge since he seems the best blend of Powell's size and Rodgers' speed at field receiver.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 PA jet, rollout pass to Powell underneath, gain of 6. Powell needs to show out in fall camp...
2nd & 4 11 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ to Etienne, DL creates a scrum and Mike Jones Jr comes around the end to wrap up. Keep an eye on Jones in the battle at Sam since Simmons is busting and Williams is a mismatch.
3rd & 4 Empty shotgun vs 4-3 Rollout vs cover 3 fire zone, defense overloads the rollout side and Brice has nowhere to go, sacked by Kelly. Brice could've pulled the trigger to Powell in the flat but it likely wouldn't have been a conversion.