CLEMSON — A toasty afternoon, plus no television and scant radio broadcasts around the state, combined for a well-attended 2015 spring game at Memorial Stadium.
What Clemson’s spring-record crowd of an estimated 37,000 fans witnessed in the Orange-White scrimmage: Clemson could have its swagger back on offense, as evidenced by the White squad’s 35-24 victory Saturday.
Running backs C.J. Davidson (twice), Wayne Gallman and C.J. Fuller each ran in touchdowns, and Artavis Scott caught a score, giving White a 35-17 lead at halftime.
It’s a far cry from the dog days of October, when the injury-riddled Tigers eked out wins by scores of 23-17, 17-13 and 16-6. While Clemson might not be as dominant a defense as last year’s No. 1-rated unit, it might not have to be.
“Bottom line, just more big plays,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Very pleased with the quarterbacks. I thought Nick Schuessler finished up a strong spring for himself.”
Take these first-half statistics (with the top squads on the field) into consideration: Schuessler, logging action for the split-squad Orange and White rosters, completed 9-of-13 passes for 134 yards and two scores.
Mike Williams caught five balls for 107 yards and two TDs, while Davidson gobbled up 76 yards on just four carries, showing his raw speed on a 54-yard score.
On the first play of the day, Orange struck early when Schuessler lofted a long ball to Williams, who picked up a 40-yard gain. Two plays later, Williams scored the first of his two touchdowns on the afternoon.
“We came into this spring putting the offense in kind of slow so the young quarterbacks would get to know the plays,” Williams said. “Now we just want to keep the tempo going.”
Gallman and Fuller scored from in close, an encouraging sign for an offense which faced mighty struggles in the red zone last fall regardless of explosive plays.
“Generally, we understand that’s an area we’ve got to improve,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “That’s going to be on myself and the offensive coaches to do a lot of research this summer. I’m pleased, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Schuessler also showed some scrambling ability, further strengthening his case to enter fall as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart ahead of true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel.
“He’s definitely the backup,” Swinney said of Schuessler. “Solid spring. He’s been very consistent, and he has to prepare himself to be the starter, because if he’s not he’s cheating our team.”
Bryant did fire a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass to Williams and a fourth-quarter score to Germone Hopper.
Starting quarterback Deshaun Watson was on the field for all of it, by the way. The injured sophomore just happened to be standing 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, wearing a purple jersey and shorts with a towel around his neck, enjoying the best view in the stadium of Clemson’s offense rising again.
“That’s something I did all spring,” Watson said. “Since I can’t be out there physically, I’m going to be right there mentally, take every rep the other quarterbacks take and make sure I’m prepared too.”
Scott, Hopper and T.J. Green made some things happen in the return game, with Clemson coaches electing for full contact on kicks and punts.
With 15 practices in the books, Clemson will have two summer sessions of skills and drills, before reconvening for the start of fall camp Aug. 4. The Tigers’ 2015 season opener is Sept. 5 vs. Wofford at Memorial Stadium.