For every step the Clemson offense took forward in Saturday’s first stadium scrimmage of fall camp, the defense pushed them two steps backwards on the next play.
It was just one of those days for the Tigers’ offense as the team’s dominating defensive front owned the two-hour scrimmage in Death Valley. Led by defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, the Clemson defense had 14 tackles for loss.
Ferrell returned to the field on Saturday after missing three days due to the concussion protocol and was the top tackler on the day with six, including three tackles for loss, one of which was a sack. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins had five tackles, including two tackles for loss early in the scrimmage.
Bryant, a third starter on the defensive line, had four tackles, including two sacks. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence added four tackles.
“Just looking at it, I did not think that we caught a rhythm,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We never really got into a rhythm. We made some plays, but we still were a little bit inconsistent at times. We did not perform well in the red zone, like we wanted to, and it was self-inflicted. We made a couple of mistakes there.”
The offense had two turnovers as Tanner Muse and Mark Fields recorded interceptions. The offense did not have any fumbles. Muse’s interception came off a tipped Kelly Bryant pass at the line of scrimmage.
“Things are moving a lot faster in the stadium,” Elliott said. “Those guys are coming. There are no coaches on the field to help them so there was a lot for us to learn from. It was a good start, but definitely there’s a lot to work on.”
Elliott thought Zerrick Cooper threw the football well. He also liked what he saw from Hunter Johnson. Both quarterbacks threw touchdown passes. However, neither one of them did it against the first-team defense.
“I was really proud of how we responded in short yardage and in goal line,” Elliott said. “That is the best session we have had in a long time. But overall, we were just inconsistent and did not catch a rhythm. I thought the quarterbacks were solid. I thought they were making the right decisions. We just did not execute.”
It was not all bad. There were some guys making plays. Freshman running back Travis Etienne had a 32-yard touchdown run against the second-team. Freshman wide receiver Tee Higgins hauled in a 38-yard pass from Chase Brice, while Cannon Smith led the tight ends with two catches for 33 yards.
Diondre Overton, who caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Cooper, had three catches for 33 yards, including one for 18. Etienne led all running backs with 10 carries for 56 yards.
“I think Travis ran the ball hard,” Elliott said. “He did not always know where he was going, but wherever he was going, he was going fast and he was going hard. I know he has a lot of work to do there, but he is tough and he is willing.”
Elliott admitted part of the problem on Saturday was the Tigers’ stout defense and the other part was the fact Clemson still has a way to go on offense.
“That is what we are telling the guys,” he said. “Right now, in camp, we are getting our system installed, and they are getting their system installed on defense. There are going to be some calls that will not match, and had we had a week to prepare and study we would know the tendencies. We are both calling our offense and defense against each other and some things don’t marry up so it is a combination of a little bit of both. Obviously, it gave us some challenging looks. That defensive line is going to challenge you every time you try to run the football and there were some things we could have done better from an execution standpoint.”
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