By Will Vandervort
The only way Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney could feel good or bad about what he saw from the first scrimmage of camp at Clemson Memorial Stadium Saturday was if he was scrimmaging somebody else.
But that did not happen, and at least for the time being it will stay that way since the NCAA does not allow teams to scrimmage one another in football. So, Swinney was happy to see his quarterbacks throw for 429 yards and five touchdowns, while his two best running backs rushed for a combined 109 yards and another score in the 100 or so play scrimmage.
But, he was also disappointed to see his defense get burned by big plays, especially since it was playing with a depleted secondary. Cornerbacks Darius Robinson (concussion), Garry Peters (ankle) and Mackensie Alexander (groin) sat out the scrimmage, while freshman corner Adrian Baker was the only player to go down with an injury Saturday. He suffered a knee injury that will be reevaluated later.
“When you are the head coach, and they are all yours, you are never totally happy because if you did a really good job on short yardage defense, it means you did not do a very good job on offense,” Swinney said. “There were a lot of wins and losses on both sides. There were a lot of competitive plays.”
At least from a statistical point of view, it appeared the offense had more wins. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for 245 yards and four touchdowns on 12 of 18 passing, with wide receiver Sammy Watkins catching two of those four touchdowns. The first was a screen in the flats in which Watkins made defensive back Marcus Edmond whiff before racing 65 yards down the sideline for the score. He later out jumped one defender at the 20-yard line and then out maneuvered the rest of the secondary on his way to a 39-yard scoring play.
“I have been known as a guy that can make those kinds of plays so I have to keep doing what I have been doing to get that confidence back,” Watkins said. “I think I kind of lacked in not making those kinds of plays last year so now I’m getting back in the groove of catching balls, while me and Tajh are getting back together and connecting.
“I think it can be a real big year for us.”
For the most part, Boyd was pleased with the way he played, but he knows there are still a few things he has to get better at. He was not happy with the interception he threw—which linebacker Quandon Christian returned to the six—and there were a couple of other passes he missed on that he says he has to straighten up.
“I try to take everything I possibly can, and improve upon it,” the quarterback said. “I don’t care what level you are at, there is always room for improvement. I’m really looking at the things I need to work on the most. That’s really what I’m looking at it.
“I know most of the things I can do really well. You have to continue to improve on that of course. But really, I’m trying to raise my game to another level as I work on the things that I need to.”
That was not too hard to do on Saturday. With four cornerbacks sitting on the sideline, Boyd exploited the defenses’ weakness.
“I could have had a couple of more. I missed some,” Boyd said. “I’m just trying to make the most of what I can and I’m trying to be the best player possible. With that, you have to make sure you distribute the ball to all the necessary needs and I feel like the guys did a great job getting open as well.”
Overall, the Clemson offense totaled 576 yards and scored six times.
“We missed a few plays that were open with our second group, offensively,” Swinney said. “Our receivers made some plays, the running backs ran hard and I’m encouraged with our tight ends.
“I thought they all competed hard. We can learn from this tape.”