While Dabo Swinney predicates his program on playing just about everybody, especially in a game that got out of hand early, it’s very rare to see a true freshman under center.
Heck, even Trevor Lawrence had to wait his turn.
And yet, there was Will Taylor under center again on Saturday. A player beyond his years.
You would never know it by looking at him out on the field, but the dual-sport athlete didn’t move into Clemson until June 24.
Not even three months later and he’s a large part of what the Tigers want to do offensively going forward.
Taylor was able to play a larger role in Clemson’s 49-3 win over South Carolina State, even if his stat line may not suggest it.
His explosiveness was more than apparent on Clemson’s second offensive possession from scrimmage. And while those points eventually got taken off the board, his ability to make plays didn’t.
Needless to say, Swinney has already put his faith behind Taylor, who is more mature than his young age would suggest.
“I’ve known that since we recruited him,” Swinney said following Clemson’s 46-point victory. “I knew that before camp.”
“He’s gonna be a great one,” Swinney added. “He’s just got a different level of maturity to him, which isn’t typical of an 18-year-old, because of the experiences he’s had. But he’s just a natural. He’s a gamer. He’s got incredible moxie, poise.”
Taylor’s a guy who’s played quarterback his whole career. Swinney watched intently as the Ben Lippen School product attended his camps over the years. He threw him into the fire and wanted to watch him take some reps at wideout.
“I was kind of blown away by him in camp,” Swinney said of Taylor. “I just told (former Clemson offensive coordinator and current USF head coach) Jeff Scott, keep him on ice, nobody’s gonna know about him. He’s a baseball guy. He plays quarterback.”
Swinney has a plan for Taylor in mind. Clemson would like for him to eventually make that transition to receiver, but questions about the team’s depth under center thrust Taylor into the quarterback conversation.
“Coach (Swinney) has said it all the time. Now, everybody’s getting to see that young man is electric,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said postgame. “I think that we all know that he’s a very, very dynamic athlete, and [we’re] always trying to incorporate him into the offense.”
Going back to that play in question: 2nd-and-5 inside the red zone. Taylor was in at quarterback and lined up in the shotgun. He chose to keep the ball on an RPO and quickly found himself in the endzone within seconds.
Then, the play was called back. An illegal block in the back penalty was called on junior wide receiver Joseph Ngata.
“Man, I hate that we had that penalty on that Will Taylor (run). That first touchdown that he had that got called back, that was a thing of beauty,” Elliott said.
Another thing of beauty was Taylor’s 51-yard punt return.
“That punt return was really, really impressive,” true freshman running back Will Shipley said. “Even how he did against UGA, just catching them. That’s a lot of pressure and he’s done such a great job. I’m really proud of him and really proud that Coach Swinney puts trust into us as freshmen.”
“We’re talking about him on offense, but look at him on punt returns,” Elliott added. “He’s going out there catching the ball, 51-yard return, getting hit on the sideline, keeping his balance.”
Taylor has kept his composure through his first two collegiate games. He had 20 rushing yards on five carries with a long run of 12 yards against S.C. State. He should’ve had his first touchdown and 19 extra yards, but unfortunately, it didn’t materialize.
However, there will be other opportunities for Taylor to find some paydirt.
It sure seems like Swinney and Tigers have enough faith in their true freshman playmaker to put him in similar situations going forward.