CLEMSON -- 55,000 orange-and-white clad fans filled the lower bowl and part of the upper decks of Clemson’s Memorial Stadium Saturday as the Tigers held their annual Orange and White Game signaling the end of spring practice.
"First of all, I'm really appreciative of our crowd. People don't realize what a big deal that is -- for a lot of reasons,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “One, to be able to simulate a game. Very few people can be able to have a crowd like that to simulate a game and get so many guys that first deep breath of experience.
“It's really neat to see a lot of those guys, their eyes, that first time. Maybe it's that redshirt that's getting his first spring game, it's those new guys that just got here, it's a different deal than just going to practice. You don't get that if you don't have a crowd like that.
"Secondly, to be able to showcase your place from a recruiting standpoint. There's a lot of guys here getting their first experience to Clemson and to be able to walk into a stadium like that for a spring game -- that's special."
It was the Orange team that emerged victorious in the game by a final score of 28-17, but for Swinney it was not the final score about which he was concerned -- it was the execution.
"I thought a lot of guys stood out today. It's always interesting on this day. It's the only time we do this, where we just split the team right down the middle,” Swinney said. “It's another piece of the evaluation. Obviously, we have 15 days. Whatever happened today, it's just one day when it's all said and done, but it is a great evaluation piece for us because you see different lineups, different combinations. Obviously, you've got the gameday environment and a lot of guys caught my eyes today.”
After each side exchanged punts, true freshman Trevor Lawrence made his Clemson debut. And he did not disappoint, as he led the Tigers on a three-play, 73-yard drive that culminated as Lawrence found Tee Higgins from 50 yards out and put the Orange team on top 7-0.
“Trevor getting his first experience. It's hard to start any better than that -- to come out and throw a beautiful touchdown pass,” Swinney said. “He's a very poised, young player. He's been exposed to a lot. He's a kid that's been starting since the ninth grade, so he's played some big games. Obviously this is a big deal out here today, but he's just very well groomed and very well prepared to take the next step."
After a second straight 3-and-out for the white team, led by Kelly Bryant, the Orange team took over at its own 36-yard line but was unable to add to the lead after a sack by Christian Wilkins halted the drive.
However, a misplay on the ensuing Will Spiers punt gave the ball back to the Orange team at the White team's 20-yard line. Hunter Johnson needed only two plays before Higgins caught his second touchdown of the day and extended Orange lead to 14-0.
The White team finally broke the scoring drought as Chase Brice led the White offense on an 11-play, 53-yard drive that culminated in a 37-yard field goal.
After both teams combined for five punts and two interceptions, Brice once again led the White offense on a scoring drive. This time it was a touchdown drive, sparked by a 43-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow and an 8-yard touchdown run by Travis Etienne, that cut the Orange lead to 14-10 at the end of the first half.
The Orange team answered on the opening possession of the second half as Johnson’s 1-yard touchdown run capped an 8-play, 58-yard drive that extended the Orange lead to 21-10. The Orange team defense added a another touchdown, as Trayvon Mullen returned an interception of Brice 84 yards for a pick-6.
"It was a very competitive game,” Swinney said. “You know, early it was a couple of plays missed, a couple of plays made on the other side and a turnover, but the White team battled back and made it a competitive game. The White team had a drive to really kind of flip it, but Trayvon Mullen came up with the big play to kind of put it away for the Orange team."
On the ensuing drive, Brice led the White team to the end zone for the first time since the first half as he found Diondre Overton on a slant that he took 50 yards for a touchdown.
1. 12 sacks: The Tigers managed a combined 12 sacks on the day, however more impressive than that number was the fact that four of the 11 came from early enrollees Xavier Thomas (two), K.J. Henry (one) and Darnell Jefferies (one).
2. Trevor Lawrence: The true freshman stole the show in the spring game as he opened the scoring with 50-yard touchdown pass and finished the day completing 11 of 16 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and a team-best 153.4 quarterback rating.
3. Tee Higgins: The rising sophomore showed flashes of greatness last season as he became a force in the Tigers’ downfield passing attack over the final three games of the 2017 season.
But this spring he has become the biggest threat on the entire team as he made catches on 50-50 balls that had many in the stands remembering former Lake Marion standout Mike Williams.
Higgins finished with a team-high 118 yards on only four receptions, two touchdowns and an average of 29.5 yards per catch.
1. Kelly Bryant: The starting quarterback struggled from the opening snap of the game, finisheng with 35 yards passing and completing only eight of his 19 attempts on the day. Bryant finished with a team-low 72.9 quarterback rating.
"Kelly didn't do a whole lot. He missed a couple of throws early, a little too amped up,” Swinney said. "We'll sit down, this is just another scrimmage for us to evaluate. He missed two big throws today that he's made all spring, but he missed them today.”
2. Running game: The dynamic duo of Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne struggled to get much productivity on the ground as they finished with a combined 53 yards on 17 carries.
The backups did not fare much better. The six running backs that saw action combined for only 143 yards -- an average of 23.8 yards.
3. Punting: The punters, former Calhoun Academy standout quarterback Will Spiers and Carson King, have been in a battle all spring for for the starting job this season.
After the spring game, Swinney would have hoped that one of the punters had taken a step ahead. But with each punter having eight attempts on the day, neither made a move on securing the starting job.
Spiers finished with a 41-yard average and King finished with a 42.9-yard average - -though both punters had some very ugly punts that took very fortunate bounces.