CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney has gone more than out of his way to say Clemson’s quarterback competition is too close to call.
Spring game wrap
Swinney wraps Tigers' spring
Saturday, he probably wasn’t planning for it to tip one way or the other, but even a fairly vanilla spring game can’t be scripted quite that well.
Leading the White squad, Cole Stoudt — the senior veteran — was on target from the get-go in front of 33,000 folks on a chamber of commerce Death Valley day. Sophomore Chad Kelly, meanwhile, was up and down — on and off the field.
Stoudt threw two first-half touchdowns and his defense — led by senior ends Vic Beasley and Tavaris Barnes kept the Kelly-led Orange offense scoreless in the first half, and that trend continued into the second where the White capped off a 24-5 win.
After five drives — and 2.3 yards per play per side to start — Stoudt’s crew cracked the scoreboard when he found sophomore receiver Mike Williams wide-open for a 28-yard touchdown reception. Stoudt credited an alert Williams for the play.
“Mike was calling the corner blitz right before the snap of the ball and he was screaming his head off saying, ‘Hey, hello, I’m here,’” Stoudt said with a smile. “That’s what we’ve developed this spring is communication on the field.”
Kelly’s arm warmed up toward the end of the first quarter, connecting on two passes for 46 yards (starting 5-of-7 for 66 yards). Beginning the second quarter, however, he lofted a ball into double-coverage and redshirt freshman Adrian Baker came down with the interception.
His next pass? Underthrown and in the arms of senior cornerback Garry Peters.
Kelly finished the half 10-of-18 for 113 yards. In the second half, he had the helmet-in-hand — and on head — at points up to mid-fourth quarter, but was never called to come on the field.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said postgame he told Kelly he was benched after a bad response to a coaching decision in the first half.
“I think Chad’s a great competitor,” Morris said. “Sometimes I think that works against him. He’s so competitive and he wants to win at everything he does. That’s what makes him special. He got a little frustrated today.
“I hated that for him. He had a good spring. I didn’t like the way he handled some adversity.”
Meanwhile, Stoudt connected for a couple downfield throws and then a 16-yard fade score to tight end Jordan Leggett. Leggett had a game-high seven catches for 59 yards.
Stoudt finished the half 8-of-13 for 98 yards — and finished the game 15-of-23 for 158.
“I can work on that for the rest of spring and summer into fall camp,” Stoudt said. “I just have to get in there and correct what I did wrong. I felt good with what I did today. I had a good spring and I’m kinda excited with how this fall is going to turn out.
“I knew I had to give everything because being a senior this one was my last (spring game).”
Swinney and Morris agreed that there’s plenty to go in the three-way race — which excluded freshman Deshaun Watson on Saturday due to a broken collarbone. Stoudt made the most of his opportunity though.
“Today, he definitely had the better day,” Swinney said. “It’s been one of those things where it’s been up and down every day. If we kept practicing, it may be a different story. Cole Stoudt had the better day. Was the better leader. Was more poised. Handled the situation in front of him better.
“Chad Kelly is an awful talented young man and he made a couple impulse decisions today were out of character for him. He got frustrated.”
The Orange o-line, with two redshirt freshmen featured prominently (Tyrone Crowder and Maverick Morris), couldn’t contain the senior end duo of Barnes and Beasley.
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They combined for 10 tackles and six of the White squad’s 11 sacks.
Senior running back D.J. Howard looked every bit the back he’s been hailed as this spring, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and scoring on a tough 13-yard run.
Daniel product C.J. Davidson rushed for 44 yards on five carries and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman went nine for 61.
Junior kicker Ammon Lakip made (39) and missed (53) a field goal attempt.
“The big thing for me was seeing how some guys responded playing next to guys that hadn’t played next to,” Swinney said. “Some guys playing a lot more snaps. Seeing our guys go out there compete in front of a big crowd. Our crowd was awesome. That’s probably been the best crowd since I’ve been there.
“I really appreciate the fans coming out and creating the environment to help us further evaluate our football team.”