CLEMSON— This is it.
Saturday’s Orange & White Game will be first time that Clemson football fans will get to lay their eyes on the team that is a near consensus “way-too-early” pick to be No. 1 in the nation.
It will also be the last time that fans can watch football until Aug. 29 — when Clemson opens the season against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
With ESPN to broadcast the spring game (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) for the first time, there is no shortage of storylines and things to look for when the Tigers take on the Tigers inside Memorial Stadium.
With the bevy of things to look for in the spring game, today we give you the four things that the Clemson fan should be looking at in the spring game.
1. The defensive line: The Tigers will have a split squad — meaning the defense and offense will be split evenly and not all projected starters will be on the field together.
This will give the fans, and coaches, an opportunity to see a lot of new faces.
The freshman All-American and consensus top 5 recruit, Xavier Thomas, from the class of 2018 posted 43 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and 3.0 sacks. Recruiting classmate K.J. Henry returns after electing to redshirt a year ago, when he personally approached the coaching staff with the idea after playing four games early in the season.
The defensive end group also includes junior Justin Foster, a trusted option by the coaching staff who had a sack and a fumble recovery at Texas A&M last year, as well as sophomore Logan Rudolph, who made 13 tackles in reserve. The staff has also expressed enthusiasm about Justin Mascoll, who redshirted his first season at Clemson last year.
Whether or not these faces will be the ones who have an impact on Saturdays this fall will be determined this summer and through fall camp, but this is their final chance to make a name for themselves this spring.
2. Derion Kendrick: The Tiger sophomore wide receiver has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring after being forced into cross-training duties at cornerback.
Saturday’s game will give the fans a chance to see what he has done to draw the praise of defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who stated that if the season started today he would get the start at one of the open spots.
Kendrick will also play the role of kick returner, punt returner and wide receiver Saturday.
3. The offensive line: The unit lost the most experienced player in Clemson football history, left tackle Mitch Hyatt, who recorded school records in career snaps from scrimmage (3,754) and career starts (57) But the line welcomes back three All-ACC performers among nine returning linemen who played at least 100 snaps a season ago.
The unit will be anchored by four seniors, Tremayne Anchrum , Gage Cervenka, Sean Pollard and John Simpson. Anchrum was a second-team All-ACC selection in 2018 who started all 15 games at right tackle. Cervenka, who holds a share of the Clemson position record with 43 bench press reps at 225 pounds, is a candidate at center after playing primarily at guard a season ago. Pollard is a returning second-team All-ACC selection who has played at both guard and tackle throughout his career and has been a revelation for Clemson as an option at center this spring. Simpson was a third-team all-conference honoree whose 858 snaps a season ago are the most of any returning player on the roster.
4. Special teams: The Tigers will be looking to see if B.T. Potter can pick up where former Tiger Greg Huegel left off — as one of the most consistent performers in Clemson history.
Potter is the team’s incumbent kickoff specialist after making an immediate impact in that role in 2018. His 79 touchbacks on 114 kickoffs a season ago ranked third in the country and more than doubled the single-season touchback output by any other kickoff specialist in the Swinney era.
While the placekicking duties appear to have a clear-cut leader, the punting duties are wide open, with former Calhoun Academy standout Will Spiers trying to hold off true freshman Aidan Swanson.
Spiers is a junior who Swinney has credited with capitalizing on momentum created by his strong finish to the 2018 season. He posted his second-highest single-game punting average of the season in the national championship against Alabama, including an early 51-yarder that flipped field position.