Tigers hold scrimmage in Death Valley as defense dominates

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Xavier Dye had two receptions, one for a touchdown, during Saturday's scrimmage
Xavier Dye had two receptions, one for a touchdown, during Saturday's scrimmage

Dabo Swinney Audio | Xavier Dye Audio | Kourtnei Brown Audio

CLEMSON – The Clemson Tigers held a closed, 86-play scrimmage in Death Valley Saturday morning, and even though the start of the regular season is still five months or so away, the defense looked like it was in mid-season form.

Andre Branch and Kourtnei Brown combined for five sacks for the defense, which did not allow a touchdown drive of more than 25 yards. Rennie Moore, Spencer Shuey, Quandon Christian and Brandon Maye all had four tackles apiece.

Quarterbacks were considered “down” with a tag to the jersey, which made it easier on the defense. One such play was a Tajh Boyd run that would have gone for 20-plus yards in a game, but instead Brandon Thompson was credited with a tackle for loss because he touched Boyd as he went boy.

However, the defense still had plenty of outstanding plays, with Branch garnering three sacks for -19 yards, while Brown had 2-14. Moore had two tackles for loss, as did Christian.

Shawn Leonard-Horwith, Rashard Hall and Shuey all had fumble recoveries, while safety DeAndre McDaniel had three tackles and a pass deflection.

On offense, Dwayne Allen and Xavier Dye each caught a touchdown pass as redshirt freshman quarterback Tajh Boyd ran the first team offense. Boyd finished 7-of-14 for 52 yards and a touchdown. He did not throw an interception and completed each of his last four passes after a shaky start that saw defenders drop sure interceptions on his first two throws.

Boyd’s touchdown pass was on a seam route to Allen, and it covered 23 yards and was the first score of the scrimmage.

Fifth-year senior Michael Wade ran the second team offense and completed 8-of-13 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. One of his completions was a 22-yard scoring pass to Xavier Dye, and he also completed a 32-yard pass to Dye and a pair of 21-yard completions to redshirt freshmanreceiver Bryce McNeal.

Allen finished with three catches for 37 yards, while McNeal finished with three receptions for 44 yards. Dye had the most receiving yards with two catches for 54. Both were catches made in traffic. Running back Daniel Barnes had a 21-yard catch and red-shirt freshman Roderick McDowell had two catches for nine yards.

Jamie Harper was the top running back with seven carries for 44 yards, while McDowell added 14 carries for 28 yards and Andre Ellington had nine rushes for 17 yards and a pair of fumbles.

“The guys in orange [defense], showed some toughness and execution today,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We did some good things on both sides of the ball and there was good energy on both sides. But the defense made some plays today. There were very few missed tackles.

“The offense had some positives also. There were no off sides penalties and there was good pace to our plays and the offense. The fumbles were a negative, but there were no interceptions. It was good to see Xavier Dye make some tough catches.”

Swinney said that he was pleased to see Boyd make progress after a rough beginning.

“Tajh Boyd is making progress, taking steps forward,” Swinney said. “He is learning the offense and will show more improvement as he gets more experience. He made some nice throws, including the touchdown to Dwayne Allen. Jamie Harper ran hard today also. If he runs like he has so far this spring he is going to have a tremendous year.

“I was also impressed with Mike Wade today. He has been playing on defense at safety when Kyle Parker has been at practice and at quarterback when Kyle is with the baseball team. It is almost like cheating for him because he is such a smart guy and he knows both the offense and the defense. So when he plays quarterback he knows exactly what the secondary is supposed to do. “

The Tigers have now completed seven practices and will have eight more over the next two weeks. Spring practice concludes with the annual spring game at Death Valley April 10 at 4:00 PM.

*Observations on the positions during the scrimmage:

*QB – Wade was solid, as you would expect from a fifth-year senior. He showed poise in the pocket despite constant pressure from the defense. Wade is a good option if there are injuries, and would probably surprise a lot of people if he got the chance to play. He is a competitor, pure and simple, which explains why he likes to knock heads on special teams and defense. As mentioned, Boyd got off to the shaky start, and tried to force each of his first two throws into double or triple coverage. However, he rebounded nicely, and his touchdown to Allen came after he went through his progressions, had his primary and secondary receivers covered, and found Allen in the seam. Later in the scrimmage, he found Marquan Jones on a “stinger” route for 11 yards and a first down, and once again, Jones was not the primary receiver on the route. His youth popped up later on the goal line, however, when he had fullback Chad Diehl open in the flat for a touchdown, but instead went for Allen, who was covered in the back of the end zone. Boyd said it was part of the learning process. “I felt more comfortable as the day went along, and I was a little bit nervous when we got started. But I just have to learn to take what the defense gives. On the goal line, I missed a wide open guy. I will learn from this.”

*RB – Harper was the best running back on the field, gaining 44 yards on seven carries. He burst around right end for a 22-yard scamper early in the scrimmage on a play that showed his speed, and he also showed toughness while running between the tackles and down on the goal line. Ellington struggled to gain his 17 yards, and fumbled twice. Redshirt freshman Rod McDowell showed a good burst, and the ability to run for tough yards, but he also fumbled.

*FB – Just a mention here, again, of Chad Diehl. He was on the field a lot during the scrimmaghe, and he threw a block on linebacker Tig Willard on the edge that sprung Harper for his big gain. To quote John Madden, it was a slobber-knocker. He was also open in the end zone on the pass that Boyd should have thrown, and actually has pretty good hands.

*WR – Xavier Dye mad a couple of really tough, jump-ball type of catches, including one for a touchdown, showing a toughness I had not really seen before. He also had a couple of nice blocks, and got called for holding on a Bryce McNeal run that I thought was actually a pretty good block. McNeal caught a couple of 21-yarders, and his speed was evident on both plays. The rest of the receivers were ok, but there was not a lot of emphasis on downfield throws in the scrimmage.

*TE – Dwayne Allen is going to be a superb player. He had flashes of speed and showed good hands on his touchdown catch. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier said that Allen benefitted from the redshirt year, and from being able to learn under Michael Palmer last season. His blocking needs work, however, as Rennie Moore blew past him on a goal-line play to force a tackle-for-loss.

*OL – The offensive line was a study in a lot of moving parts on Saturday. Chris Hairston played sparingly, as did some of the other first-teamers, but David Smith played pretty well despite moving between guard and tackle during the scrimmage. Smith is going to play a lot this fall, and could even push for a starting position. Napier said they played the second group a lot in order to try and find out who they can depend on in game situations.

*DL – This group has been my favorite to this point during spring, and Saturday they were like a pack of wild dogs. The unit was without Malliciah Goodman, who went home for the funeral of a friend, but it didn’t matter. Andre Branch, Rennie Moore and Kourtnei Brown were playmakers. There were at least three different times that Branch almost beat the quarterback into the backfield, and Brown also showed good speed. With the absence of Goodman, Moore moved inside and played defensive tackle for the first time yesterday, and then played there some during the scrimmage, and acquitted himself well. Allen, the tight end, tried to describe to Branch and Moore how he tried to block Moore on the goal line, and said he had barely gotten his hands up when Moore blew past him.

*LB – Brandon Maye showed that he is recovering from the knee injury he suffered before the bowl game, and got in on a couple of nice tackles. Tig Willard, who was praised afterward by Steele, appeared to be all over the field at times, and Corico Hawkins made several nice plays as well. A surprise was that junior linebacker Daniel Andrews was on the field a lot early in the scrimmage, and fared pretty well. Spencer Shuey also made his presence known on a couple of occasions. If this group can find two really good playmakers, this defense has a chance to be special.

*DB and S – DeAndre McDaniel played up in run coverage a good bit during the scrimmage. Adding that to his already-good coverage skills will make him even better. Rashard Hall also showed a physical presence on running plays. Spencer Adams had a huge hit on Rod McDowell on the sideline, reprising the hit he put on the Kentucky punter during the Music City Bowl. Carlton Lewis and Jonathan Meeks worked as second team safeties. The best thing about the corners was that nobody heard from them, which means there were no big plays against them, nor were there any interceptions. However, I thought Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh each did a good job in coverage.

*Special Teams – The scrimmage started with the kickers lining up for field goals against a live rush, and the usual murmur went through the press box as the kickers missed four consecutive short field goals, all going wide right. Spencer Benton ended the streak with a 42-yarder, and from there the kickers were solid. A bad snap cost the offense a point after their first touchdown, and holder Michael Wade was forced to just throw the ball away. There were only four punt returns in the game, with McDaniel handling two and Gilchrist handling two.

*T.L. Hanna’s Jake Nicolopulos, the linebacker and Clemson commitment that suffered a stroke late last year, watched the scrimmage from the sidelines, and even enjoyed a conversation with former Tennessee head coach Philip Fulmer.

*Linebacker Quandon Christian hit McDowell for a 3-yard loss on a play that might have been labeled the “hit of the day.” Christian burst through the line and leveled McDowell before he could even get planted. The pop was heard even through the thick glass of the press box window.

*Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had DeAndre McDaniel playing up on the line of scrimmage in several situations, either run-blitzing or pass-blitzing, and McDaniel had a few nice pops, especially down on the goal line.

*The goal line drills were fun to watch, especially when the first team defense went against the first team offensive line. Former guard Thomas Austin was in attendance, and he smiled when he saw some of the “twos” on the offensive line go against the first-team defense on the goal line. He said there was no way the defense was going to let that group score, and he was right. Branch said afterward that they don’t care who is in the game – no one is going to score. “We don’t care if it was the ones, the twos or the threes. They are not going to get into the end zone, because if they do, we have to run. And we don’t like to run. There was no way they were gonna score.”

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