Defense dominant in Saturday scrimmage: Parker out with back injury

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Jackson hit on 4-of-5 field goals as he continues to lead the race at kicker
Jackson hit on 4-of-5 field goals as he continues to lead the race at kicker

CLEMSON – The big question following Saturday’s football scrimmage in Valley was: is the offense really this bad, or is the defense really this good?

The answer, as is usually the case, lies somewhere in the middle. The offense was without starting quarterback Kyle Parker, who was held out with a minor back injury, and the first-team offensive line really never played as a unit as the offensive coaches tried to mix some of their veteran guys with some of the younger players in an effort to get the youngsters up to speed.

The end result was another dominant effort for the defense as linebacker Tig Willard had two interceptions, four tackles and a pass deflection to lead the defense, and the highlight of the scrimmage was a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by defensive back Marcus Gilchrist.

The scrimmage was Clemson’s 11th practice of the spring, and they will conclude spring practice next Saturday with the annual Spring Game at Death Valley at 4:00 PM.

Gilchrist also had an interception and three tackles to go with a sack and his punt return, while linebacker Brandon Maye had three tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack, and Corico Hawkins had five tackles to lead all tacklers in the 80-play scrimmage.

“The defense was dominant,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You will never hear me complain about having a dominant defense. The difference between our offense and our defense is the depth, especially in the line. The next step for our defense is to play this way on a consistent basis. I have been very impressed with Marcus Gilchrist. He is as good a player, as smart a player, as we have on this team.”

Redshirt freshman Tajh Boyd quarterbacked the first team offense for the entire day and completed just 4-of-11 passes for 39 yards and a touchdown. Boyd also had 17 yards rushing in six carries, including a 32-yard run that was the longest offensive play of the day. He threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Andre Ellington for the only touchdown by the offense in the scrimmage. Ellington was the most productive player on offense with four receptions for 51 yards and nine rushes for 26 yards.

Mike Wade ran the second unit and completed 6-12 passes for 60 yards. He also had 12 yards rushing on four carries. Darrell Smith, a redshirt freshman tight end for Gadsden, AL, had two catches for 19 yards.

Richard Jackson had a strong day, kicking field goals as he made 4-of-5, including pre scrimmage practice. Spencer Benton was 3-for-5.

Parker spent a good part of the scrimmage side-by-side with Swinney behind the offense, and the head coach said he would much rather have had No. 11 under center rather than with him.

"I was disappointed he couldn't go this morning,” Swinney said. “He's got a stiff back. He won't play baseball this weekend, either. I was anxious to see him out there. The defense dominated. They were just dominant."

Swinney said the decision to rest Parker came about after a visit to the training room early Saturday morning.

"He got a call to go to the training room this morning,” he said. “They decided to rest it. It's been nagging him for a week or so. We're going to rest him and see if we can't get him better. Hopefully we're going to know more by Monday. He swings the bat pretty violently and then throwing it, it was aggravating it. He wasn't resting it."

Boyd struggled at times in the scrimmage, and he missed on five of his first six pass attempts, two of which were intercepted.

"Tajh gets better when he watches the film and you sit down and show him the mistakes," Swinney said. "He's making improvement. I wish we'd have had Kyle out there today. That kind of helps things. But we're going to keep bringing No. 10 along. He's going to be fine."

However, it was the defense that stole the show, and Swinney said you would never hear him complain about having a dominant defense on the field.

"I'm really impressed with those guys, our defense overall," he said. "I think that's just the difference over there. We have a lot more depth on the defensive side of the ball - experienced depth. That's obvious. They just roll guys over there. You want to be really excited about your defense, but that also means they mashed the offense. We just didn't respond. And there are a lot of moving parts to what's going on over there [defensively], too."

Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was asked if he was pleased with the play of his defense to this point in the spring, and his answer was a terse “no.”

I think to say that you’re pleased with something invites complacency, and that’s something we are never going to do around here,” Steele said. “There are some things we have done well, and we are trying to find some playmakers on there, but we are still making a lot of mistakes. There are a lot of things we can do better, and a lot of things we can improve on.”

Other observations:

*A nice play on a blitz pick-up by Andre Ellington early in the scrimmage. Safety Rashard Hall came in off the edge on a blitz, and Ellington up-ended Hall, allowing Boyd time to complete a pass over the middle.

*Rod McDowell continues to impress. He caught a pass from Michael Wade in the flat, turned it up field, and instead of running out of bounds ran into Carlton Lewis, knocking Lewis to the ground.

*Marcus Gilchrist, who probably has the most natural instincts in the return game, showed the Clemson return game could be in good hands this season. Gilchrist returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown, making two tacklers miss at the 30-yard line, juked another tackler at midfield, and then outran everybody else into the end zone.

*Spencer Benton hit a 38-yard field goal.

*The wheel route might be alive and well. The Tigers worked on the red zone midway through the scrimmage, and Ellington and Harper lined up in the backfield at the same time, with Boyd in the shotgun. Boyd faked the handoff to Harper, and Ellington leaked out to the outside and Boyd used nice touch to loft the football over the linebacker for the touchdown.

*A scary moment in the scrimmage happened when Corico Hawkins and Andre Branch collided while trying to make a tackle on McDowell. Both players immediately went to the ground, and Branch lay on his stomach for several moments while Hawkins lay on his back and didn’t move. Both eventually left under their own power. Hawkins said later that McDowell “ducked” and caused the collision then claimed he got the better of the meeting. “He [Branch] doesn’t want to keep running into me like that,” Hawkins said with a grin.

*The Tigers were late on one draw play, and DT Jarvis Jenkins blew up the running back for a five-yard loss.

*Xavier Brewer had an interception off of quarterback Taylor Ogle on the left sideline, stepping in front of the receiver to make the pick.

*Richard Jackson nailed a 44-yard field goal late in the scrimmage that hit the brick wall behind the goal postsas he continues to show a strong leg.

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