CLEMSON -- It was a typical spring game at Clemson all right.
These days, coaches don’t want to show anything in a spring game that might tip off their first few opponents. If there are any new wrinkles to Clemson’s offense, Tommy Bowden would rather Wake Forest find out about them in the middle of the third quarter on September 4, instead of by watching a cable television replay of the spring game.
So, it was a subdued crowd of approximately 15,000 at Death Valley on Saturday that watched Clemson’s offense feed plays to Clemson’s defense. There wasn’t much in the way of offensive firepower, which was in part because Bowden was giving defensive coordinator John Lovett exactly what he was looking for.
“The biggest thing I wanted to see was whether we did a good job against a two-back running game,” said Lovett. “Coach Bowden and coach (Mike) O’Cain agreed to give us two-back play action and two-back running game.”
The offense scored a total of 20 points 111 offensive plays – not exactly the kind of output Clemson fans might have expected. But, Bowden wasn’t about to give anything away. He had closed practice except for three scrimmages and two practices at the beginning of the spring. He was obviously working on some new wrinkles with offensive coordinator O’Cain. But after the game Bowden was unwilling to even give up the likely position for C.J. Gaddis, much less put his offense on display with nothing to gain.
However, there were a few things he couldn’t disguise: (1) There are a few holes on the offensive line. (2) Even with the receivers trying to fill the shoes of Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Youngblood, Charlie Whitehurst will be able to throw the ball well enough for most any receiver to catch it. (3) The defensive line could be a strength.
The defensive line put consistent pressure on Whitehurst and knocked down nine passes. Bowden chalked up the knockdowns to their knowing the play. “It was a two-inch rush and then jump up,” said Bowden. But more than the knockdowns, the defensive line was in control most of the day.
“Between Gaines Adams, Mo Fountain, Charles Bennett and Vontrell Jamison, they did a good job,” said Bowden. “Is it because the tackles are struggling, or is it that they’re that good? That’s what I won’t find out until game day.”
Whitehurst completed 19 of 47 passes with two interceptions for 290 yards against the pressure. His long pass of 51 yards was a thing of beauty that dropped over two defenders into the arms of Airese Currie.
“It could have been better, but we got some things accomplished through the spring breaking in new receivers and breaking in new linemen,” said Whitehurst.
Clemson’s running backs gained 238 yards on 55 carries, the long run of 25 yards coming on a reverse to Chansi Stuckey. The running game was anything but overpowering. Duane Coleman led the backs with 52 yards rushing white Reggie Merriweather added 51 yards. But considering Coleman was an afterthought coming out of practice last spring before leading the team in rushing, you have to be careful drawing conclusions about anything that might happen in the backfield. Yusef Kelly, who rushing for 37 yards, could still be in the mix there.
Two new starting tackles will come from a group that includes Roman Fry, Marion Dukes, Tim DeBeer, Brad Lee and maybe even some incoming freshmen. It’s enough to keep Whitehurst up a few nights between now and August considering the pressure applied by Clemson’s defensive line on Saturday.
“It looked like we got a good pass rush out of four guys,” said Lovett.
That much even Wake Forest can take from a spring game shrouded in mystery.