CLEMSON — As first scrimmages go, it could have been worse.
A lot worse, Dabo Swinney said.
Following Clemson’s first scrimmage of preseason practice Tuesday afternoon, the Tigers’ head coach had a positive outlook. Was it a bit sloppy? Sure. Was that to be expected? Absolutely.
“I thought it was a little better than a typical first scrimmage,” Swinney said in a Memorial Stadium tunnel after his team wrapped up. “There are always things you expect from a first scrimmage. It was a little bit better than what I expected from the first time out there, especially since we had a lot of new guys playing.
“With our second group, we mixed and matched, and I thought they competed very well.”
The day’s star was redshirt freshman tailback Roderick McDowell, who gained a scrimmage-high 76 yards on 12 carries, including bursts of 22 and 34 yards on the same drive.
“Rod McDowell is really coming into his own,” offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. “This is a tough, physical game and I think he’s really figuring out that he has to be physically and mentally tough to play running back. Given opportunities, he’s really done well. For a little guy he’s a tough guy. I think all of our offensive players will do battle with that guy every day of the week. He’s gaining respect every day from coaches and teammates.”
Clemson’s muddled group of wide receivers did little to distinguish itself, though. The scrimmage’s top two pass-catchers (Dwayne Allen, with two catches for 49 yards and Drew Traylor, with two for 29) are both tight ends.
Terrance Ashe had two receptions for 28 yards, Marquan Jones had two for 11 and Jaron Brown added two receptions for 14 yards and an 18-yard run.
Swinney said that Jones has “really done a good job in the slot,” indicating that he was closer to firming up a starting spot than Ashe, Brown, Xavier Dye or Bryce McNeal.
Wide receivers coach Jeff Scott was a bit harsher on his charges.
“It was very average for a first scrimmage,” he said. “I felt pretty good about the past couple days in the practice field, felt like they’ve had some good practices, but getting out here in the stadium, with the coaches off the field, I thought it was an average performance.”
Scott was pleased with his wideouts’ downfield blocking, but said mistakes like Brandon Ford’s fumble and DeAndre Hopkins’ jump offsides were unacceptable.
Quarterback Kyle Parker completed nine of 18 passes for 114 yards, adding a running score; backup Tajh Boyd completed seven of 18 passes for 71 yards, adding a 13-yard rushing touchdown that capped off a 75-yard drive.
“Overall, the throwing and catching weren’t quite as crisp as I’d like to it have been,” Napier said. “Third downs in particular early on weren’t very good, later on we made (improvement). Overall, those guys really caught the ball well.”
Problems, he said, were “stuff we can control,” like “execution and drops,” but added “things were a little better than I expected them to be this time out.”
The defense was led by defensive end Andre Branch, who had a 25-yard tipped-pass interception return for a touchdown. Jonathan “Tig” Willard led the unit with seven tackles, while linebackers Brandon Maye and Scotty Cooper and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh had five apiece.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was pleased with his first unit but saw issues with his backups, mostly due to fatigue caused by mistakes.
“(The first team) picked up where we left off in the spring,” he said. “We didn’t have penalties with that group and were effective in short yardage, third down, run and pass. All of the numbers were winnable numbers.”
All three placekickers competing had a solid day; Richard Jackson made all four tries, including two from 4 yards. Spencer Benton went 3-for-4 and Chandler Catanzaro went 2-for-3 with his only miss from 56 yards.
Safety DeAndre McDaniel suffered an injury near his tailbone but walked off the field under his own power. Freshman tailbacks D.J. Howard and Demont Buice (concussions) missed the scrimmage, as did defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who is mourning Sunday’s sudden death of his father.