We should have beautiful, albeit chilly, weather for the Tigers' annual Orange & White Game on Saturday at 1:00, and we should have the biggest spring game crowd since 2019 before Covid. After an unprecedented plague of injuries last season, the 2022 Tigers are loaded, with a whopping 37 returning players that have started at least one game. Although one of the big storylines is all of the key players that will be out on Saturday, there are several things I'm looking forward to watching from the press box.
First and foremost, which quarterback, if any, will shine on Saturday? The competition between veteran DJ Uiagalelei and heralded freshman Cade Klubnik has been well documented. From the limited practice sessions I have seen and what Dabo has told us, Cade is as good as advertised, if not better. You may remember that when all the other Clemson sites were obsessed with following Arch Manning's recruitment, I was raving about how good Klubnik was, even months before he won the Elite 11 MVP Award last summer. He was just as impressive in the All-American Game in January, and Dabo said that he's like a sponge, soaking up as much as he possibly can every day. Dabo said that his physique looked identical to Deshaun Watson when he came in as a skinny freshman in the spring of 2014, but Cade has added some muscle in the short couple of months since he arrived on campus in January. He's close to 190 right now, and Dabo thinks he'll be around 200 by August camp. Cade is extremely athletic and throws a nice, tight spiral with accuracy. The faster he learns the offense, the more pressure he's going to put on DJ, the incumbent starter. DJ has been wearing a big brace on the knee that he injured last season, and that somewhat impeded his movement from the limited practice I saw this spring, but Dabo said that he has had a great spring. Unlike last year, he knows that Cade is nipping at his heels, and I think that will bring out the best in DJ. Then there is Hunter Helms, who has been the most productive of the quarterbacks at times in the scrimmages. He is a more than capable backup, much like Chase Brice a few years ago, and I expect that he will be the starter for the White team on Saturday, with Cade coming in behind him. Speaking of Helms, last week I was the first to report that he was invited to be a counselor at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy in June. I don't know if that honor has ever been bestowed on a backup. Usually only the most elite starters in the country like Trevor Lawrence are invited. That speaks to Hunter's quality as a player and a person.
If you are hoping for lots of points on Saturday, you may be disappointed. I am expecting a low-scoring game, like 13-10 or so, for several reasons. First, the offense is always vanilla in these spring games. Second, and more importantly, there are several key players on offense that won't be playing. Shipley, Pace, Beaux Collins, EJ Williams, Adam Randall, Will Taylor, Davis Allen and Sage Ennis will all be out. Phil Mafah will be on the Orange squad with DJ, whose main passing targets will be Ngata, Stellato and Luke Price, who has been much more of a blocking tight end in the past, although Dabo told me that he has had a great spring and is much improved. The White team won't even have a scholarship running back, and the only real weapons in the passing game will be Dacari Collins, Brannon Spector and TE Jake Briningstool. The one I am most upset about is WR Adam Randall. The freshman was having a great spring before he tore his ACL just a week ago, and Dabo told us that he was in the same immediate-impact category as Sammy Watkins, Justyn Ross and Beaux Collins. That is pretty heady company! I immediately noticed how he stood out physically on the first day of practice, and that was one of the first things I mentioned. It would have been fun to see him this Saturday, but now we'll have to wait. It remains to be seen whether he will red shirt next season and only play the allotted 4 games at the end of the season or if he will be ready before that. Dabo seemed optimistic about the latter, bringing up Amari Rodgers, but Amari tore his ACL about a month earlier, and it was the fastest return from an ACL known to man. I think it would be unfair to expect the same time table for the true freshman, but we shall see. In addition to all the weapons out, a couple of offensive linemen will be out, including Walker Parks, who contracted mono. Speaking of the O-Line, keep an eye on the center position on Saturday. Will Putnam will be playing at center in front of a crowd for the first time in his life! He's had a couple of bad snaps this spring, but Dabo has praised how well he's done, considering he's never played the position. Interestingly, Trent Howard are both on the Orange team, so I guess redshirt freshman Ryan Linthicum will start at center for the White squad. Another reason I'm expecting a low-scoring game is that the quarterbacks' threat to run is mitigated by the no-contact rule. For Cade particularly, that is a big part of his game. And last but not least, this may be the best defense in the nation! In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the defense scores once or twice to help the offenses out.
Speaking of the defense, they will also have some key players out, including DT Bryan Bresee, DT Tre Williams, S Lannden Zanders, S Tyler Venables, CB Sheridan Jones and CB Malcolm Greene and freshman CB Jeadyn Lukus, who should played half the spring before having a clean-up shoulder surgery. Despite those absences, I expect the defense to dominate on Saturday. I'm looking forward to watching the two freshmen in the backfield: CB Toriano Pride (#23 Orange) and safety Sherrod Covil (#12 White). Dabo has raved about them as well as Lukus this spring. With both corners, Booth and Goodrich, moving on to the NFL, the opportunity will be there for Pride and Lukus this season. In fact, Pride will probably start for the Orange team along with sophomore Nate Wiggins, who had a pick-six in the last scrimmage. It will also be interesting to see how Phillips performs at safety with Zanders and Venables out. Dabo said that Phillips is one of the most improved players on the team and has emerged as a team leader. I'm also looking forward to watching All-American candidate Trenton Simpson in his new role at the WILL linebacker spot, which was vacated by Baylon Spector, who had an outstanding season. Simpson will line up for the White team, and with Tyler Davis, ET Reuben, KJ Henry and Justin Mascol up front, Simpson could wreak havoc for DJ and Mafah in the backfield on Saturday. Speaking of linebackers, I'm excited to see what sophomores Jeremiah Trotter and Barrett Carter can do now that they have a year under their belts. Dabo said that Trotter is so athletic and versatile that he could play almost anywhere, even running back!
With the low-scoring game I'm anticipating, the X-factor (other than turnovers) could be BT Potter, who will play for the Orange team. He could be the difference if he makes a long field goal or two. I know nobody likes to talk about the punters, but I asked Dabo on Wednesday if there has been any separation between Potter and Swanson at punter, and Dabo said that is the single question mark that remains after the spring. He said he has no idea who will be the starting punter at this point. There will be no returns in the spring game, of course, but perhaps one will do better than the other on punts on Saturday.
The Orange team will be coached by Mike Reed and White will be coached by Kyle Richardson with early mat drills on the line for the losing team! Honorary captains will be Power Rangers Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. I'll have live coverage from Death Valley and post-game interviews at the link below!
Never miss the latest news from CUTigers!
Join our free email list