CLEMSON — Following the losses of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford to the NFL, Clemson’s offense has a serious need for playmakers to emerge.
Saturday’s second scrimmage of preseason practice wasn’t a cure-all, but it certainly gave the Tigers hope.
An offense that struggled at times in the first scrimmage was much sharper Saturday, torching a good defense for 323 yards and six touchdowns on 22 of 36 pass attempts in a two-hour scrimmage at Memorial Stadium.
“We took a step forward,” said quarterback Kyle Parker. “The biggest thing was we executed well. You didn’t really see the sloppiness we were getting in our first scrimmage with the penalties, and balls on the ground. Those are things you’ve really got to look for in a scrimmage. To top it off the guys were scoring a lot and making big plays, and that makes it even better.”
Parker showed no sign his ongoing contract negotiations with the Colorado Rockies are affecting him; he completed 10 of 14 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Backup Tajh Boyd completed nine of 17 for 63 yards and two scores, while Michael Wade went two for three for 85 yards, including a 45-yard strike to freshman DeAndre Hopkins.
Senior Terrance Ashe led the receivers with five catches for 76 yards, the long a 44-yarder from Parker. Marquan Jones added three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, while freshman Joe Craig’s lone reception went for 40 yards.
Swinney said that Jones, Xavier Dye and Jaron Brown lead the receiver rotation, but you could “flip a coin” for starting status.
“The receivers have been very consistent throughout this whole camp,” Swinney said. “They’ve only had one really bad day. That’s the result of competition. We’ve got a bunch of guys competing and I’m not disappointed in any of them.
“Some young guys are getting better and learning. We’ve got a nice situation, good chemistry, a lot of opportunity for several guys to step up. I’m confident based on what I’m seeing this spring and in camp we’ll do just fine.”
Redshirt freshman tailback Roderick McDowell had the best day on the ground, with 12 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 53-yard dash. It was his second strong scrimmage in a week after going for 76 yards Tuesday.
“The O-line opened up holes and I ran through them,” McDowell said modestly. “I had some key blocks and took what was there, that’s it. It’s all the guys up front.”
Of course, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele wasn’t nearly as pleased with his unit’s performance.
Steele said his first string was effective against the rush, but made several key busts and tackled poorly. He also had major concerns about the second string and depth overall.
“I think we’re just going to see that we didn’t play crisp,” he said. “I don’t want to make excuses. We looked dead-legged. I don’t know that we were. We looked like it.”
Largely, though, Saturday was a step forward. Wide receivers coach Jeff Scott noted that Hopkins’ big play came on the exact same route he had messed up Tuesday, a highly positive sign.
“The biggest thing coming into today, you want to see, ‘Have we learned from our mistakes?’” he said. “Obviously we don’t have to play for a couple weeks, but you want to see the things from the film room, and did we learn from those mistakes. That’s what I saw today and was most pleased about.”
Swinney was simply happy that his team’s learning curve has decreased significantly from last year, his first as the head coach.
“We’re right on schedule,” he said. “I really like this team. They’ve come to work every day, had good attitudes, been real workmanlike and easy to coach. We’re much further ahead than we were last year.”
Noted: Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers was absent for the funeral of his father, Dennis, Saturday; his roommate, cornerback Byron Maxwell, also attended. Much of the team attended Dennis Bowers’ visitation Friday. Swinney said that he expects Da’Quan will return Monday after a week away from the team.
“We’re anxious to get him back, he’s ready to get back,” Swinney said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family today. We really enjoyed our time together (yesterday) and thought it was a special time for all of us that were there. Today will be a tough day for him, but he’s doing well, looking forward to getting back to work.”…Linebacker Scotty Cooper (shoulder) missed the scrimmage, but cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (sprained foot) returned.