Following Clemson’s 26-7 win at Georgia Tech on Thursday night, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney praised the play of freshman receiver Cornell Powell.
Powell contributed to Clemson’s best offensive performance of the season with a career-high five catches and 44 yards, and after the game, Swinney called Powell the “12th man” on Clemson’s offense.
“Kind of the ‘12th man’, if you will, was Cornell Powell,” Swinney said after the game. “We talked about, coming into this game, that there’s probably going to be somebody that we’re not expecting who steps up.”
Powell has stepped into a bigger role in Clemson’s offense in the absence of Hunter Renfrow, who suffered a hand injury against Troy. Renfrow has missed the last two games and isn’t expected to return for at least a couple more weeks.
Swinney has challenged his reserves to be ready when their number is called, and so far, Powell has answered the bell.
“That was good,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said of Powell’s performance after the game. “You never know which game is going to be your game. Coach challenged the guys right before the game and said, you backups be ready because you’re one play away from having to step in.
“We felt like it was going to be somebody we weren’t counting on early on that was going to step up and make plays, and it was good for him, good for his confidence.”
Powell’s first catch of the game against Georgia Tech — a 12-yard reception on second and 8 from Clemson’s 40-yard line — helped Clemson move the chains on an eventual scoring drive that put the Tigers ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter.
The catch may have gone relatively unnoticed by many in the larger scheme of things, but the play stood out to Swinney.
“I know it was just one play, but there was a play where it was a low ball, and he goes down and made a difficult catch just look routine,” Swinney said. “That’s what good receivers do — you make your quarterback right.
“But man, what a grab. It was just a simple play, but I’m really proud of him and what he was able to do.”
Powell made another notable reception late in the second quarter. After being called for holding the play before, Powell came right back and atoned for the penalty with an 18-yard catch that gave Clemson a first down. Clemson would go on to score later in the possession.
Like all freshmen, Powell has made mistakes and hasn’t been perfect. For instance, he dropped what could have been a touchdown catch against South Carolina State last weekend.
However, it’s not the mistakes, but the way Powell has responded to his mistakes, that has defined his play thus far.
“He’s played and showed up in a couple games now, and bounced back from the touchdown that fell out of his hands against South Carolina State,” Elliott said. “So, it was good to get him going.”
Swinney has referred to Powell as a “dynamic player” and said the 6-foot, 200-pounder was going to get his fair share of playing time this season whether Renfrow had been injured or not.
In Clemson’s first few games, Powell has shown flashes of the receiver he has the potential to become.
Moving forward, he’s simply looking to take advantage of the opportunities he receives — as he has so far.
“Whatever they need me to do,” Powell said, “I’m ready to embrace my role.”