CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney has lamented the lack of preseason games in college football. But the Clemson coach enjoyed the next best thing during the second half of his team’s 52-27 win over Ball State on Saturday.
After building a 35-point halftime lead, most of Clemson’s starting offense did not play in the second half. In all, 79 players participated for the Tigers, including a number of highly rated true freshmen like defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and offensive tackles Isaiah Battle and Joe Gore.
“It was a great opportunity to grow our team,” Swinney said. “We got to play a lot of guys and give them a chance to get some playing time.”
The staff particularly wants to build depth along its fronts. D.J. Reader, a 6-3, 330-pound freshman, earned extensive playing time.
The 6-6, 280-pound Isaiah Battle and 6-5, 275-pound Gore played the entire second half, which pleased Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
“They look good in uniform,” Morris said. “They’re still trying to figure it out. It’s like a crossword puzzle or jigsaw puzzle, trying to figure out all the puzzle pieces. Every now and then they get a little frustrated, they lose a piece and they can’t figure it out and it’s underneath the box lid.
“They have unbelievable talent and it was really good to see them get in a live situation.”
Freshman Travis Blanks took the lion’s share of snaps at Brent Venables’ hybrid defensive position Saturday after Quandon Christian had received most of the work there against Auburn. Blanks made several impressive hits and finished with seven tackles.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Blanks is one of the more aggressive tacklers on the team.
Clemson left guard David Beasley left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. Swinney said the injury is not believed to be serious. Linebacker Tony Steward did not play in the second half due to a strained hamstring.
Spencer Benton converted a 61-yard field goal attempt before half Saturday, an ACC record.
The previous Clemson record was 57 yards (Chris Gardocki in 1990 and Obed Ariri in 1977).
“Everything clicked, it was awesome,” Benton said.
The nation saw what a healthy Andre Ellington can do with the ball against Auburn, rushing for a career-best 228 yards.
But Ellington has also improved in pass protection, picking up a blitzing linebacker to allow Tajh Boyd hit DeAndre Hopkins with a 15-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter.
Ellington rushed for two scores and 41 yards on 13 carries.
In addition to the efforts of Ellington, a former Berkeley High standout, a couple Clemson receivers with local ties pulled in some passes Saturday.
Brandon Ford (Hanahan High) caught three passes for 25 yards, and Stanton Seckinger (Porter-Gaud) had two catches for 27 yards.