CLEMSON — Well, we know this about the Orange and White game: Clemson’s assistants can divide a team pretty darn equally.
That’s one of the most important things we learned on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon inside Memorial Stadium.
An estimated crowd of 28,000 saw Dabo Swinney’s house divided battle to a 20-20 regulation tie through four quarters.
Chandler Catanzaro’s 45-yard kick lifted Orange to a 23-20 win over White in “double overtime,” which was really the second round of a kick-off between him and backup Ammon Lakip.
“I didn’t want to walk off the field with a tie,” Swinney said. “It was good to put a little pressure on the kickers there, and finish that way.”
Catanzaro had a chance to win the game in regulation with a 52-yard field goal, but missed wide left – his first competitive miss of spring.
After the captains huddled at midfield, Catanzaro and the Orange team set up for a 50-yard field goal. It, too, missed wide left, as did Lakip’s subsequent 50-yard try for the white team.
Moved five yards closer, Catanzaro was straight and true.
Lakip had a chance to extend the game with a 45-yard try of his own, but it was no good.
Swinney said the scrimmage’s overall tight nature was a perfect capper for a hard-fought spring.
“The game was indicative of our spring in that it’s been very competitive, it’s been very balanced,” he said. “What I mean by that is whether it’s the first team or second team, there’s a lot of competitive depth right now. A lot of jobs that are far from locked down. So the competition is creating a great spirit out there. I think you saw that today.”
Although he remains the unquestioned starter, junior Tajh Boyd struggled at times Saturday.
He completed 20 of 26 passes for 229 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
On the second snap, he connected with junior wideout DeAndre Hopkins for a 62-yard catch and run that set up a field goal. But one of his passes was deflected and intercepted by linebacker Spencer Shuey. Another overthrown ball was intercepted by cornerback Garry Peters.
“I thought he did some good things, I really do,” said offensive coordinator Chad Morris. “ I thought he started off strong, I thought he made some impulse decisions at times. It resulted in some turnovers and a sack.
“Those are things we’ve got to get better at. That’s not just Tajh, that’s all the quarterbacks. Lot of work to do this summer, a whole lot of work. He’s got to take this football team on his shoulders, and he’s got to be the leader of this football team every day, starting right now.”
Standing next to Morris, Boyd joked that he’d take “a day off, maybe half a day.”
He knows where he must improve this summer.
“I’ve got to be a consistent factor all the time,” he said. “When I’m on, I’m on. I am one of the best players in the country. Then you get some picks and it’s like a bonehead play, something off the wall, oh my goodness.
“I’ve got to get rid of it. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s throw the ball away, live for another play. I feel like when I’m in my element, I’m good to go. When I start to play outside the system, it hurts us. I definitely want to correct it, but the only question is how soon.”
Hopkins was the standout among the receivers, with seven catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. At times, he toyed with redshirt freshman cornerback Cortez Davis, who drew him in coverage for much of the game.
Swinney said that his confidence has gone “through the roof” with a full offseason of work.
“Nuke’s been the MVP of spring,” he said. “If I had to just pick one guy on the team, someone pinned me down, he’s been the MVP all spring. Very consistent. Rarely drops a ball. This has been his first offseason, probably in his life. Last year he was playing basketball. Now with all that great talent, athleticism, ability to run, ball skills, he’s put that physical strength to go with it.”
Saturday was somewhat anticlimactic by nature and “vanilla,” in Swinney’s words. The next phase starts almost immediately – summer work to prepare for defending an ACC title.
“It’s going to be a big summer for us,” Swinney said. “We really challenged a lot of guys. We’ve got a lot more guys here going into (summer school) than we did last year. We have a chance to get a little bit of a head start.”