Clemson will conclude its 2022 Spring with the annual Orange and White game at 1pm on the ACC Network. It is always exciting when there is any form of Clemson football to be had, but the Spring Game can often present us with false gods or false scapegoats. This game is on TV and the coaches approach it that way, which means any real adjustments in schemes will likely not be on display. The staff truly kicks the tires when they do “good on good” sessions whereas the Orange and White game features split squads. I’m basing my primer on things I tend to trust watching these games vs. what I don’t. I’m interested to see what you readers feel about it in the comments.
Part 1: Beware the false god! Every now and then you have a guy show out in the spring game but it doesn’t materialize in the fall. Sometimes this is injury related, but other times it isn’t. Back in the Tommy West days, a running back named Dymon Adams had over 100 yards in the Orange and White game and many fans felt the heir apparent to Raymond Priester was revealed. Adams went on to just 18 carries before leaving the program.
The Tommy Bowden era gave us Rendrick Taylor, a hulking specimen for a WR who ripped off a long TD in the spring game which got many fans seeing a college version of NFL-level Terrell Owens in the works. Taylor never did much beyond a few good blitz pickups before a gnarly leg injury more or less ended his effective career.
These are two that jump to mind when I think of players who flashed in this game but didn’t become stars. It is important to remember some of the factors when you see (or hear about) guys blowing up during the spring. The first is who are they doing it against? We actually got some honesty this spring about some of the now injured Adam Randall’s big plays coming against walk-ons. This doesn’t mean Randall hasn’t or can’t deliver against the top flight scholarship corners, but it is something to consider. The other big factor is how much (or how little) mystery is involved with what each team is doing. Most players at this level look a lot better when they know exactly what they are getting from the other side. Taking out the guess work speeds guys up. Chances are there won’t be a lot of guess work in the spring game on either side of the ball. The guys who show out in the fall will be the ones who adjust the best when there IS a lot of guess work and quick reactions to be made post-snap.
However, sometimes a guy announces his true arrival in this game. If both guys know what the other is pretty much going to do, things boil down to which man is better straight up. Deandre Hopkins had a record breaking junior season in 2012, and I recall just how easy he made everything look in the spring game prior. Tee Higgins had a similar showing prior to his final season as a Tiger. Everything about them looked different and it definitely translated to huge seasons. Both guys saw freshmen steal a lot of the show the year before with Sammy Watkins in 2011 and Justyn Ross in 2018, and they took their games to new heights before heading to the NFL.
Part 2: Beware the false scapegoat! I find this is most applicable to quarterback play in the spring game. Exhibit A would have been Kelly Bryant’s forgettable spring game prior to the 2017 season. Bryant turned around and led the team to the ACC Title and the playoffs while clearly showing his superiority to challengers Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper. I think a lot of fans are anxious to see DJU vs. Cade Klubnik in the same way they approached Trevor Lawrence’s first spring against Kelly Bryant. It might really come down to which quarterback has a particular receiver or Phil Mafah. It might come down to who is facing a DL that just dominates and throws the entire offense out of whack. I think it is important to remember that a spring game will never trump the overall body of work a player has put together up to that point.
Part 3: MASH units. Let’s face it, many of what the program expects to be major contributors are not going to play in this game. The two offenses will be without Will Shipley, Kobe Pace, Adam Randall, EJ Williams, Dietrick Pennington, Davis Allen, Walker Parks, and Will Taylor. The two defenses won’t have Sheridan Jones, Bryan Bresee, Tre Williams, and Jaedyn Lukas to name a few. We’ve already heard about linebackers playing corner in some situations. We will see how things play out Saturday and how much exposure certain guys will get. I wouldn’t expect the Xavier Thomas types to get a lot of action personally.
Part 4: What I hope to see. I need to see something from one of the Collins towers or Joseph Ngata to give me a sense that a true WR1 like we are used to seeing in this program will be there in the fall. Will any of these guys send a message the way Hopkins or Higgins did?
We need a new punter for the first time in a very long time. The Tigers traditionally run live kicking situations in this game so we can actually get a sense of who might be the guy there this fall. Will BT Potter have a Chris Gardocki/Nelson Welch dual role?
Of course I’m hoping to see DJU be decisive and accurate in ways he was not last season. How does the ball come out? Does he look labored as he did at times last year or fluid/natural? That will matter more to me than his simple stat line. I also have high hopes we will see what we want out of Klubnik.
And, above all, PLEASE no more injuries!