Play of newcomers has Tigers feeling great about the future
Even though the game was well in hand, Jeff Scott knew he was witnessing something special when he saw a trio of true freshmen lead second-ranked Clemson on a three-play, 92-yard scoring drive in the second half of Saturday’s season opener vs. Furman.
The co-offensive coordinator, and everyone else at Death Valley, watched as running back Lyn-J Dixon burst off consecutive runs of 16 and 61 yards. A play later, former five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence connected with former five-star wide receiver Justyn Ross for a 15-yard touchdown that put the Tigers up 41-0 in the third quarter of their eventual 48-7 win over the Paladins.
“That was great to see,” Scott said. “These freshmen are different than freshmen a few years ago coming in. Obviously we’re very excited about the potential for this season, but it makes you feel good about our future, seeing those young guys get opportunities.
“And when you have a talented team like we have and are still able to play young guys and let freshmen get opportunties, I think it speaks a lot to Coach (Dabo) Swinney and what he believes in giving guys opportunities. How they do with those opportunities will dictate how many more snaps they get as we move forward. But I think that was definitely one of the big takeaways from this game, was how those true freshmen [did]. So, the future’s definitely bright.”
Ross thought he might only pick up a few yards when he caught a screen pass from Lawrence for his first career reception. However, Ross proceeded to cut inside, juke a defender and then sprint into the end zone for his first career touchdown.
Watching Ross turn his first catch into a touchdown, Scott was reminded of former Clemson All-American receiver Sammy Watkins, who also scored on his first career reception against Troy in 2011.
“It means a lot,” Ross said of being mentioned in the same breath as Watkins. “He left a great legacy here that a lot of receivers have built off of, and it means a lot.”
On Clemson’s ensuing possession, Lawrence completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to true freshman tight end Braden Galloway for the latter’s first career score.
Lawrence, who went 9-of-15 passing for 137 yards and three touchdowns, said it was exciting to be one of several freshmen that made a bunch of big plays in their first regular season game as Tigers.
“It’s really cool just because we have such a veteran team,” he said. “But to see the veterans play well and then also all the young guys play good, too… We’re really meshing and playing really good at the best time, the start of the season. So, it’s exciting for sure.”
While Lawrence got it done through the air, Dixon showcased his dynamic ability on the ground.
Dixon had butterflies entering his first game at Death Valley, according to co-offensive coordinator and running backs Tony Elliott. However, it didn’t show as the frosh finished with a game-high 89 rushing yards on six carries (14.8 yards per attempt).
“He actually said yesterday after our walk-through, ‘Coach I’m getting nervous,'” Elliott said. “He hadn’t been nervous at all in practice, but once we went to game prep here in the Valley, it started to become real for him.
“But to see him go out there and just do what he does… I think we’ve all said that he’s very explosive. You could tell there was still some plays that he just made on his own. He’s very hard to tackle. So, he’s a lot like Travis (Etienne) was last year. He’s going to have to learn how to play within the system and the design, the running schemes, but he’s very explosive.”
Dixon, Lawrence, Ross and Galloway weren’t the only freshmen who made their presence felt in the game. Derion Kendrick hauled in a 38-yard reception in the third quarter, K.J. Henry recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, and B.T. Potter booted six of his seven kickoffs for touchbacks, with the other resulting in a fair catch.
Clemson’s leading passer and leading rusher against Furman were both freshmen, while freshmen accounted for three of the Tigers’ six touchdowns in the contest.
“You always worry about when those guys get into a game-type situation in Death Valley,” Elliott said of the newcomers. “There’s 80,000 fans. It’s a little bit different. The intensity is different. You’re playing against a different opponent. It looks a little bit different than what you’ve seen in practice.
“So, really happy for those guys to get in and make plays, and it just confirms what we saw in fall camp, that those guys are capable. They’ve got to continue to improve. They’re all going to have opportunities to get better throughout the course of the year through practice, but really pleased and happy for those guys to have success today.”