Defense holds upper hand in Clemson's first scrimmage

Defense holds upper hand in Clemson's first scrimmage

Football

Defense holds upper hand in Clemson's first scrimmage

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Some good. Some bad.

That’s the way Clemson coach Dabo Swinney described what he saw from his team Saturday. In other words, things went about as expected for the Tigers during their first scrimmage of fall camp.

Rain in the area moved the scrimmage into Clemson’s indoor practice facility, where the defense held the upper hand. Not only did the unit come up with a pair of fourth-down stops and a turnover created by some of the reserves, it was also the cleaner side of the ball.

The defense didn’t commit a single penalty, something Swinney said he couldn’t remember happening in a scrimmage while he’s been the head coach.

Swinney attributed some of that to the group’s experience. With 20 defensive players that have started a game, including seven defensive linemen, expectations are high for the unit. Swinney said the defense performed how he hoped it would.

“Just consistency I thought all day long,” Swinney said. “And we didn’t do things on defense that beat yourself.”

Swinney gave the offense some props as well, particularly with some of its top receivers out. Justyn Ross, who practiced for the first time Friday, is going through a five-day acclimatizaion period and is only practicing in shorts for the time being. Joseph Ngata (undisclosed) and freshman Beaux Collins (shoulder) were also held out, though Swinney said Collins is close to returning.

Sophomore Ajou Ajou and freshman Dacari Collins flashed their playmaking ability with those wideouts unavailable, Swinney said, but he added there were “way too many penalties” on offense. There were also a handful of muffed snaps as Clemson continues to divvy up first-team reps at center among Mason Trotter, Hunter Rayburn and Matt Bockhorst.

“We started well moving the ball. We just didn’t finish drives,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “We had some critical drops and too many self-inflicted wounds with penalties. False starts by receivers, by the offensive line.

“We’ve got to control the controllables, and we didn’t do a great job there.”

As for first-team reps at running back, Lyn-J Dixon, Kobe Pace and freshman Will Shipley shared those, Swinney said. But with D.J. Uiagalelei preparing for his first season as Clemson’s full-timer, the emphasis offensively was on testing the sophomore quarterback, so Swinney acknowledged the Tigers didn’t work on the running game nearly as much as they normally would in a typical scrimmage.

There were a couple of throws Uiagalelei probably wishes he had back, Swinney said, but the Tigers’ signal caller played a turnover-free scrimmage. Overall, Swinney said he was happy with Uiagalelei’s performance considering everything defensive coordinator Brent Venables threw at him.

“These dudes we’ve got coming off this (defensive) front, the blitzes that we’ve got and the tight coverage that you see, I just wanted to see him with command of the offense,” Swinney said. “Again, it’s not always going to be perfect, but just manage the offense. Stay within the system. How is he going to respond to a negative play? How is he going to handle momentum? You know there’s going to be some momentum changes in the scrimmage. How’s he going to respond to that? I thought he was solid.”

Uiagalelei’s backup, Taisun Phommachanh, did not participate as he continues to work his way back from the Achilles injury he suffered in the spring. That gave the other quarterbacks on the roster a chance for more game-like reps, including sophomore Hunter Helms, who’s been getting second-team reps whenever Phommachanh is held out.

Swinney said he was generally pleased with the performances of all his signal callers, adding the group has a good mental grasp of what the Tigers are trying to do offensively.

“We’re evaluating these guys not off their stats,” Swinney said. “We’re evaluating these guys on where they are with their fundamentals, their technique, their knowledge and their functionality. Those guys have done a great job.”

With exactly three weeks left before Clemson’s opener against Georgia on Sept. 4, Swinney isn’t going to waste time reviewing film of the scrimmage. He said that would happen Saturday night before the Tigers resume practice Monday. Their second scrimmage is scheduled for Thursday.

“Three weeks from right now, it won’t be a preseason game,” Swinney said. “But I’m proud of the effort and proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish in camp to this point.”

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