DEFENSE DOMINATES, WHITE BEATS ORANGE 20-13 IN CLEMSON SPRING GAME
- 2023-04-16 20:41:06
CLEMSON, SC - I expected Saturday's Orange and White game to be dominated by the defense, and it was, but it was still a competitive and entertaining game until the final minutes. With several starters out on both sides of the ball, including Will Shipley, Beaux Collins, Adam Randall, Troy Stellato, Will Taylor, Will Putnam, Marcus Tate, Xavier Thomas, Ruke Orhorhoro, Payton Page, Tre Williams, Tyler Venables, Sheridan Jones, Jalyn Phillips and Jeadyn Lukus, we didn't get the full preview of the 2023 Tigers, but we got to see several of the most recent additions on the big stage, most notably 5-star DT Peter Woods from Alabama, and he did not disappoint. We also saw a few lesser known players make names for themselves, such as freshman safety Khalil Barnes, who began the game with a savage hit for a TFL and ended it with a game-winning pick-six. He also had a nice PBU!
Dabo divided the teams with the offensive starters on White and the defensive starters on Orange. Naturally, White had the defensive 2's and Orange had the offensive 2's. The defense dominated in both scrimmages during the spring, and Saturday was no different. The defense combined for just 484 yards and 26 points allowed with 7 sacks, 15 tackles-for-loss and 4 interceptions, including a pick-six. Actually, there were very nearly two pick-sixes, as Mukuba returned his to the 2-yard line, so the defenses really only allowed 19 points combined for all intents and purposes.
Cade Klubnik had a big advantage over Hunter Helms with the way the teams were divided. He had Mafah, Antonio Williams, Cole Turner, Spector and Briningstool at his disposal, while Helms had freshman WR Noble Johnson, TE Sage Ennis and a bunch of walk-on receivers with Domonique Thomas at running back. As a result, Cade had more yards and completions than Helms, but I thought both quarterbacks played reasonably well against a very tough defense. Cade was 18-33 for 190 yards, playing a little over half the game. He threw 2 interceptions, however, and they came on back-to-back tipped balls. The first was on a 4th and goal play from the Orange 2-yard line when Mickens intercepted a tipped ball by Jamal Anderson, the son of the Atlanta Falcon by the same name of "Dirty Birds" fame. On the first play of his next possession, Cade threw into tight coverage and Wiggins made a nice PBU, tipping the ball right into the hands of Mukuba, who should have had an easy pick-six. He was tackled from behind by OL Tristan Leigh, making a nice hustle play to prevent the touchdown. The effort was wasted, however, as Thomas punched it in for Orange's first TD, giving them a 10-7 lead at halftime. Cade's running ability was on display, although he finished with -5 net rushing yards due to the touch sacks and tackles.
Hunter Helms made do with the hand he was dealt and did a good job moving the offense and protecting the football. Also playing for about half the game, he was 8-18 for 112 yards with no interceptions. Helms transformed his body to make him a step faster, and he has solidified himself as the No.2 quarterback in my mind and probably Dabo's as well. "Hunter Helms has had his best spring," Dabo said after the last scrimmage of the spring. "He is by far the best version of Hunter Helms that we've seen. He's processing things quick. Really good decision maker. I'm really proud of him and what he's done. He's very smart, he understands the game. He's a guy that you know you can depend on." In fact, Dabo mentioned that they hope to redshirt the highly recruited freshman Christopher Vizzina, who has a very bright future but is still learning the offense, adjusting to the speed of the college game and probably needs a year under his belt before he's ready to lead the offense in a real game. I've been told that CV did not lead a single scoring drive in the four spring scrimmages, and he struggled on Saturday as well. He was just 3-9 for 9 yards with 2 interceptions. The first INT was the game-winning pick-six with 1:36 left, and I think he stared down the receiver on the play, allowing Barnes to break on the ball. The second essentially ended the game, but it was a pretty well-thrown deep ball to freshman Noble Johnson. That one wasn't Vizzina's fault as much as it was a great play by the redshirt junior safety, Bubba McAtee coming over the top.
As for the running backs, we didn't get to see Shipley on Saturday, but his roommate and best friend, Phil Mafah, has had a tremendous spring. It was tough sledding against that stout starting defensive line of the Orange team, but he rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, including a 19-yard run. He also had a catch for 5 yards. I was impressed with Domonique Thomas, who is affectionately known as "quadzilla" because of his lower body strength. He had 14 carries for 63 yards and a score, including a 20-yard run. He has good vision and is a load to bring down between the tackles. Thomas is third in the pecking order right now, but freshman Keith Adams, Jr. is right on his heels. Dabo calls him a "sledgehammer" because he is such a physical back. His father was a great Clemson linebacker, and he runs the way you'd expect from a linebacker's son. Adams rushed for 50 yards and a TD on 11 carries.
TE Jake Briningstool had a nice game for the White team with 3 catches for 56 yards. After sharing the stage with Davis Allen last season, he is ready to be the Tigers' featured tight end. Backup TE Sage Ennis made a nice catch for 19 yards early in the game before leaving with a minor injury. The surprise was redshirt sophomore TE Banks Pope (#44), who had 4 catches for 67 yards for White, including one that set up a score. He's playing for the right team with a name like Banks! Freshman TE Josh Sapp, son of former Clemson QB Patrick Sapp, had a couple catches too, including one for 24 yards. As for the receivers, Antonio Williams had a modest 5 catches for 24 yards, and Spector had 4 for 25. Turner had just one 13-yard catch, but he could have had a long TD reception in the 1st quarter. He had the coverage beat, but Cade underthrew the pass, and Toriano Pride made a great play to break up the pass.
DE Cade Denhoff had 2 of White's 3 sacks. For Orange, Carter and Trotter demonstrated why they are the best linebacker tandem in the country, combining for 13 tackles. Carter also had a sack, as did freshman defensive linemen TJ Parker and Stephiylan Green, who had a great spring from what I've been told. But freshman DT Peter Woods was the star of the show. He was all over the field and constantly in the backfield, tying Carter with 7 tackles and one sack. He also blocked a PAT that would have saved the game for Orange if not for the late pick-six. Ironically, Dexter Lawrence, who was an honorary coach for Woods's Orange team, was talking to Dabo on air when Woods blocked the PAT. That was something we saw Big Dex do a few times when he played for the Tigers! Woods is wearing Bryan Bresee's #11 well, and I cannot wait to see him in September next to Tyler Davis in the middle of that front!
Finally, we have special teams. The biggest question mark of the spring was probably who would win the starting punter job. Aidan Swanson is back after replacing 5-year starter Will Spiers, but the consensus is that Jack Smith will push Swanson for his starting job. The competition is sure to go well into August camp, but Swanson probably had the edge on Saturday, averaging 44.2 yards on 4 punts, including a long of 51. Smith averaged 37.3 yards on 7 punts and put one into the end zone for a touchback. The highly talented Robert Gunn is likely to be the starting kicker, but Dabo said that fellow redshirt freshman Liam Boyd has been pushing him. Boyd made a 51-yard attempt for the Orange team, while Gunn did not get an attempt for White.
It was a picture-perfect day for the O&W Game in Death Valley and a great crowd of about 50,000 on hand! Many of them, as well as myself, hustled across the street to Doug Kingsmore to see Jack Leggett's No.7 retired. Be sure to watch my video of that at the link below! I'll have more in a bit. In the meantime, our post-game interviews with Dabo and players are below!
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