Orange scored a 28-17 victory Saturday over White in the 2018 Clemson spring game at Memorial Stadium in South Carolina.
All eyes were on the quarterback quartet of returning starter Kelly Bryant, prized prospect Trevor Lawrence, Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice. A lackluster performance from Bryant likely leaves the door open for Lawrence to make a serious push for the starting job in fall camp.
As a whole, the game was far more competitive and realistic than most spring games. The notoriously high-powered Tigers offense picked up the pace several times to simulate the regular season, which provided a good test for the defense.
Quarterback Battle Heats Up
Bryant helped lead Clemson to the College Football Playoff during his first season as the team’s starter last year. His passing numbers were underwhelming, though. While he completed 65.8 percent of his throws, he tallied just 2,802 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He added 11 rushing scores.
The senior failed to find a rhythm Saturday. He missed on several early throws and watched as all three of the other signal-callers led scoring drives in the first half.
An exhibition game isn’t going to decide his fate. That said, he’ll need to perform more consistently when the group reconvenes in the fall if he wants to remain the starter. He previously expressed confidence about the situation during the final week of spring practice.
“It’s my job, man,” Bryant told David M. Hale of ESPN.com.
Meanwhile, Lawrence showcased the promise that made him a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 overall player in the 2018 class in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Zac Al-Khateeb of Sporting News noted how the true freshman was outshining his competition:
Chase Brice and Hunter Johnson throw back-to-back interceptions. Kelly Bryant is missing open receivers. Fans just want to see Trevor Lawrence right now.
Lawrence put his effortless arm strength on display on several occasions, including a 50-yard touchdown throw to Tee Higgins. Another deep ball to the emerging wideout was called back because Lawrence was touched, which constitutes a sack in the spring game, though he stood tall and delivered a strike.
It’s too soon to consider him the favorite to start the opener against Furman on Sept. 1—that’s still Bryant at this stage—but he earned himself an extended look before the staff makes a final decision at the position. Keeping his talent on the sideline could prove difficult unless the incumbent steps up.
Tee Higgins Shines For Orange
Higgins improved his stock more than any other player Saturday.
The Tennessee native was a fringe contributor as a freshman in 2017. He caught 17 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns.
He’ll be called upon to make more plays this year, and all signs from the spring game suggest he’s ready to develop into the Tigers’ top target sooner than later.
Sleeper Athletes highlighted his second TD grab:
Great back shoulder throw by #Clemson #Tigers QB Hunter Johnson (@HunterPh413) & another TD catch for WR Tee Higgins (@teehiggins5) in the spring game https://t.co/WCgdertcuS
Higgins showed off the entire package. He beat the defense over the top with his speed, won battles in traffic with his strength and showed off reliable hands every step of the way.
He’ll be a nightmare matchup in the regular season if his spring success carries over.
Defense Handles Pace Effectively
The Clemson defenders were challenged like few around the country during the spring game. Head coach Dabo Swinney did everything in his power to create a real game atmosphere Saturday, and that meant a lot of pace and quick-hitting plays from the offense.
Although the Tigers defense did allow several long gains, an area that must be cleaned up before the regular season, they offset those with a lot of key plays of their own.
The sides combined to generate 17 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and five turnovers, including a Trayvon Mullen pick-six off Brice.
Clemson Football provided the game’s final stats:
Final “Stats” 👇👇👇
#TeamOrange🔶🔶 gets bragging rights! https://t.co/3BlYcVs1xM
All told, the spring game illustrated pieces are in place on both sides of the ball for Clemson to once again compete for a CFP berth. That’s especially true if the defense is making as many potentially game-changing plays as it did against its own offense.