Right now, Clemson’s offense ranks fifth nationally in scoring at 46 points per game, while it is seventh in college football in passing yards per game (346.0) and 11th in total yards per game (504.3).
And that is with Trevor Lawrence having had to sit out a couple of games due to COVID-19 and Justyn Ross having not played this season following offseason spinal surgery, as well as some key injuries on that side of the ball.
So, just imagine how even more explosive the Tigers would be offensively if their whole arsenal of weapons were healthy. Cornell Powell has, and he says the offense would be flat-out frightening.
“It would be a very, very scary sight,” the Clemson wide receiver said this week.
The injury bug has bitten the Tigers particularly at the receiver position, as sophomores Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata – five-star caliber talents who entered the 2020 season with high expectations – have both dealt with injuries and missed time because of them.
Ngata has been sidelined for three games this season, including each of the last two against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, and played only five snaps in two other contests while hampered by a nagging abdominal injury. After recording 17 receptions for 240 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman last season, the Folsom, Calif., native has just seven catches for 83 yards and no scores in seven games this year.
Although things haven’t gone the way Ngata had hoped, his teammates are doing their best to lift him up and support him as he battles through injury.
“He’s good,” Powell said. “Obviously when you’re dealing with an injury as an athlete, it’s tough. But we, as a team and as a wide receiver group, we try to stay encouraging him and stay positive. Obviously we miss him and we wish he could be out there with us. He’s a great talent, him and Frank and Ross. That’s the crazy thing about this team from a wide receiver standpoint – no matter who we have out there, we’re going to dominate, but it could be that much more scarier if we had all our pieces.”
Ladson has also missed the past two games with a foot injury and played only six snaps in the Notre Dame game on Nov. 7 after appearing only on special teams a week earlier vs. Boston College. The Miami native has been productive and flashed his potential when on the field, hauling in 17 receptions for 272 yards and three touchdowns.
And Ross, of course, has missed the entire season following early June surgery for a congenital fusion in his spine, something he learned he was born with after undergoing an X-ray this spring after taking a hit in spring practice and experiencing stinger-like symptoms and numbness. The doctors also discovered he had a bulging disk, which only aggravated the situation.
However, Ross has been feeling great and was given the green light to practice in October. He has been practicing ever since, and after practice on Oct. 21, head coach Dabo Swinney reported the Clemson receiver was in full pads, “And he did all of our individual and all of our receiver work. All of routes versus air. Man, you forget how special he is.”
Powell says Ross still looks like the same player who had 865 yards and eight touchdowns on a team-high 66 receptions last season after bursting on the scene as a freshman in 2018 with 46 catches for a team-high 1,000 yards and nine scores.
“Justyn comes in here, he works every day,” Powell said. “He ran routes with us a couple times, and I feel like he hasn’t had a drop-off since the injury and it’s amazing to see. His spirits have been high. He’s laughing, joking, smiling. And obviously I’m praying for him. I would love to see him back on the field soon. He’s an unbelievable talent and having him would be that much better. So, he’s definitely in high spirits, though.”
When Powell looks over to the sideline and sees guys like Ross, Ladson and Ngata standing there watching, it motivates him to be his best and take advantage of the playing time he gets – something he has done as a fifth-year senior this season while tallying 41 receptions for 684 yards and five touchdowns, all of which are good for second on the team behind only Amari Rodgers.
“You want to go out there and give your all for those guys because you know that they’ll give anything to be out there with you,” Powell said. “So, it’s going back to making the most of your opportunities and never taking it for granted because that could easily be me on the sideline. So, just going out there playing for those guys because I know the work that they put in over the spring and the summer, and to be injured and miss a lot of the season is really tough. So, every game, just going out there and making sure that I’m upholding the standard for those guys.”
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