CLEMSON FOOTBALL

Clemson spring game performances answer big questions
AJ Hoffler was among the defensive standouts to make things difficult for Clemson backup QB Christopher Vizzina.

Clemson spring game performances answer big questions


by - Contributor -

Before Clemson’s spring game, I shared some thoughts on who to keep an eye on during the scrimmage. I took it to heart and walked in with the roster print-outs highlighted with all the players to watch, and while some say you don’t learn anything from a spring game, I came away with some nuggets.

Obviously, atop the list of players to watch was junior QB Cade Klubnik. Live, in-person his performance didn’t give me much confidence. He was still a little late and slightly behind his receivers on a few throws. Upon rewatch, I saw him not taking too many undue risks (he had one throw into double-coverage that should have been intercepted), and make a couple great throws. Two that stood out were the 55-yarder to Adam Randall and a 5-yard laser to RB Peyton Streko that got the ball to the 1-yard line and set up a rushing touchdown on the ensuing play.

Klubnik finished 13-26 with 158 yards and an INT (on the WR). Not amazing, but I don’t feel discouraged by it either, particularly given he was without several key weapons: RB Phil Mafah, TE Jake Briningstool, WR Cole Turner, WR Tyler Brown, etc.

Another player I had an eye on was QB Christopher Vizzina. He was just 3-9 passing in last year’s spring game and redshirted the season. Coaches said he was “pushing” QB Cade Klubnik this spring. Unfortunately, it didn’t show in this contest. He was 14-25 with 108 yards and two interceptions. DE Jahiem Lawson intercepted him on an underthrown wheel route and by LB Jamal Anderson near the line of scrimmage. He was intercepted again by Jamal Anderson, but a (questionable) offsides penalty canceled out the play. It did not appear to be a “free play” situation where he threw it up, but rather a legitimate mistake. Perhaps it was a fluke off-day. That’s certainly possible, but QB Trent Pearman looked awfully good and has to be challenging him for the second-string QB job. Vizzina has a strong arm and great footspeed, but mistakes like that will sink an offense.

Pearman’s performance was the story of the day. He alternated playing for both teams and accumulated 141 yards and a touchdown on 13-18 passing plus 62 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. His TD pass to Bryant Wesco on a fade route was one of the best throws of the day.

I was also watching C Ryan Linthicum and a trio of freshmen. Linthicum looked solid but left with a minor lower-body injury and didn’t return. Harris Sewell switched teams and also looked serviceable at center. I was encouraged by their play, which will be integral with Will Putnam’s departure.

The three freshmen I was anxious to see were Wesco, LB Sammy Brown, and K Nolan Hauser. They all impressed and have a chance to make an immediate impact. Wesco had 26 yards on three catches, including the game’s only receiving TD. He wasn’t dominant by any means and had a drop, but it also gave me confidence that adding him and the still incoming TJ Moore to replace Beaux Collins and Will Taylor (who left before last season but still ate a spot in terms of roster management) can improve the team’s playmaking ability.

Brown had eight tackles, including a sack. He and Jamal Anderson seem poised to boost a linebacking corps that has to replace Jeremiah Trotter. With them playing a role (and some expected improvement from Barrett Carter and Wade Woodaz), it is possible the group will improve despite that huge loss.

I’m not a big believer in granting scholarships to high school kickers. It feels too much like playing the lottery and if you lose, you eat a scholarship for four years. Clemson had a scholarship kicker last season but had to pull walk-on Jonathan Weitz back onto the team to solve their woes (and they may not beat South Carolina or Kentucky without doing so!). This year, the Tigers brought in another scholarship kicker, Nolan Hauser, from North Carolina. Much to my relief, he looked excellent, making 2/2 field goals, including a 48-yarder. It looks like I will be thrilled to be wrong here. Hauser could fix Clemson’s kicking woes. K Robert Gunn went 1/3 on field goals.

There were a few players I was not particularly looking out for that made me take notice. On the theme of me being wrong, Jahiem Lawson, a Daniel High School grad I wasn’t high on as a prospect, looked outstanding. I was concerned about defensive end depth earlier this offseason, but Lawson’s progress certainly relieves that. He made an outstanding play in coverage to take a wheel route, not get beat over the top, and then turn his hips and intercept an underthrown ball. He only had two tackles, but both were tackles for loss (one sack). Another DE, AJ Hoffler, had five tackles, including 2.5 for loss (one sack), and Cade Denhoff similarly had four tackles with two for loss. It’s a little wonky to judge because quarterbacks aren’t live (i.e., so you don’t know for sure that they would have had the sack), but it was a strong day for Clemson's defensive ends.

DeMonte Capehart, Payton Page, Tré Williams, and Stephiylan Green proved to be a tough defensive tackles group to run on as they largely stopped the running backs from getting much traction (though they were without Mafah). Green had six tackles, with four being sacks. The performance certainly eased concern about coach Nick Eason’s defensive tackle position, which lost Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro, while also lending DT/DE Peter Woods to coach Chris Rumph’s DE group.

TE Josh Sapp made an excellent catch on a 39-yard pass from CV. He climbed the ladder and high-pointed the ball to bring it in. With Briningstool not playing, Sapp looked like the best-receiving threat among the tight ends.

Lastly, it struck me just how important WR Antonio Williams is to the offense. He missed most of last season with lower body injuries, and the impact of his absence has probably not been talked about enough. He isn’t the outside jump ball receiver like Tee Higgins or Mike Williams, but his ability to make plays after the catch is hard to replicate. He finished with 62 yards, and 41 of them came after the catch. Randall had 85 yards to lead all receivers. Fifty-five came on a deep pass from Klubnik. Turner and Tyler Brown did not play, but add them into the mix along with freshmen Wesco and Moore and you start feeling better about this wide receiver room than you have since the 2020 season. If Tink (Misun) Kelley, Troy Stellato, Ronan Hanafin, or Noble Johnson can give them anything, you have a much deeper group than in years past.

After Saturday’s action, we now have evidence Clemson’s defensive line and linebackers can continue their dominance despite some big losses to the NFL. The questions about the offense aren’t gone, but some of the concerns about the offensive line and wide receiver were at least partially dispelled. We didn’t see a virtuoso performance from Klubnik, but it was enough to leave me hopeful. The pieces around him finally seem where they need to be. Now, we wait until August 31 (vs. Georgia) to see if he can make the progress he must to level-up the Clemson offense.

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TigerNet News®
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pharmrock
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FORESTTIGER
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WisenTiger®
spacer IF Cade NOR Vizzina pan out we have 3 huge misses
STERLING®
spacer Re: IF Cade NOR Vizzina pan out we have 3 huge misses
Ryan_Kantor®
spacer If only there were a method of getting players from other schools
Judge Keller®
spacer Sounds great provided they dont want a $ bidding war to get them to come here***
hufferbilly
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dkmoore1975
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Ryan_Kantor®
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tigered1®
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Ryan_Kantor®
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OneChristianGuy
spacer Sammy Brown would have strip sacked Cade at the 10yard line in a real game***
NIKE®
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clemvol
spacer Well written article Ryan! And your observations are spot on ***
hufferbilly
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diveparis
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clemvol
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JPF16®
spacer Yepas QB you gotta have reptilian instincts, instinctive and quick! Very little
hufferbilly