CLEMSON -- Clemson's spring practice lasted just long enough to create what
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden calls a "controversy" at quarterback.
Not that he hadn't been given an opportunity, but sophomore Willie Simmons
had done little in the 14 spring practices prior to Saturday's final spring
practice at Death Valley to warrant his inclusion as a candidate to start at
quarterback next season.
With incumbent starter Woody Dantzler out for the spring recuperating from
ankle surgery, Simmons had been given the chance to run the first team
offense exclusively. "Simmons performance during the spring was not
spectacular," said Bowden.
That changed when Simmons completed 19 of 33 passes for 213 yards in
Clemson's version of its spring game.
"I felt pretty comfortable out there," said Simmons. "I just went out there
to have fun and give the fans a good showing. I had a pretty good day
throwing the ball."
Clemson's spring game put its No. 1 offense against its No. 1 defense and
its No. 2 offense against its No. 2 defense in front of approximately 15,000
fans. The scrimmage was held in four 15-minute quarters with the clock
running continuously in the second half.
It wasn't unlike Clemson's other two scrimmages this spring that it had been
held in Death Valley. For Simmons, though, it was his best showing. He was
11 for 19 for 80 yards in the first scrimmage and completed 12 of 30 passes
for 172 yards in the second scrimmage.
"This is the most consistent I've been throwing the ball," said Simmons. "I
was hitting my spots. I was pretty consistent in that respect."
The game itself was played conservatively. Much of what Clemson had worked
on during the spring wasn't on display since it will be broadcast on cable
television this week for every opponent to examine.
The first team offense scored in the first half on a 49-yard field goal by
Aaron Hunt and a 9-yard run by Simmons on a quarterback draw.
The second team offense scored three times in the first half. Bernard
Rambert, who finished with 108 yards on 14 carries, scored on a 19-yard run
after quarterback Matt Schell completed a 51-yard pass to Tony Elliott. Chad
Jasmin had a 2-yard touchdown run after Schell completed passes of 14 and 23
yards to Elliott and 25 yards to Derrick Hamilton. Tony Lazarra added a
22-yard field goal.
In the second half, the only score came when linebacker John Leake returned
an interception of a Schell pass 57 yards for a touchdown.
"The things we talked about before the game was effort and hustle," said
Bowden. "We were holding them to one base defensive coverage."
Kevin Youngblood caught 11 passes for 142 yards. Youngblood emerged this
spring the most likely receiver to take Rod Gardner's role at the go-to
receiver in Clemson's offense.
On both sides of the ball, Clemson came out of the spring with a solid first
team. It's the second team, particularly on defense that concerns Bowden,
who took in the game 17 rows up in the South stands with Homer Smith, his
boss from his days at Alabama where he was the receivers coach in the late
"We need some more competition up front and in the secondary," said Bowden.
"I feel pretty good about our backups and linebacker, but we need that at
safety and corner."
Bowden is counting on as many as three starters on offense and as many as
two on defense coming from the recruiting class he signed two months ago.
Saturday, however, he seemed as pleased as he has this spring with the
players already on campus.
"I felt like we got as much as we could out of the fifteen practices," he
said. "With the injuries we went into the spring with, we got all we could
Former Clemson coach Charley Pell, who is suffering from lung cancer,
spoke to the team before the game. Pell coached the team in 1977 and 1978,
leading the team to an Atlantic Coast Conference title in ’78.
“He talked a lot about what he’s been going through,” said Bowden. “He’s
been facing pretty strong adversity. I think he talked about his realization
of a supreme being at this point in his life and told the players not to
Clemson’s game with N.C. State next season has been moved to Saturday,
October 13. It had originally been scheduled for the previous Thursday night
to be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
“I hate that,” said Bowden. “I would rather play on Thursday. It would give
us a chance to showcase our program on national television with a Heisman
Trophy candidate. It’s nice to have that for marketability.”