CLEMSON — If Clemson left guard Marcus Tate needed a reminder he wasn’t in high school anymore, he found himself staring straight at it on the first play of Clemson’s opener with Georgia.
Just a few inches away stood Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis, all 6-foot-6, 340 pounds of him. He’s a man so big, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott would later joke Davis was a doppelganger for the mountainous John Coffey from the cinematic classic ”The Green Mile.”
This was Tate’s first assignment. Block that guy. And the 6-5, 325-pound true freshman was fixated on it. So much so, he forgot to pull off a double-team of Davis and block the linebacker who just barreled into the backfield and nearly cut down Kobe Pace before he even gained a yard.
“I was pretty locked in on blocking him, and I think from a mental standpoint, that’s where I need to get better,” Tate said. “Not more or less trying to not get embarrassed. Just doing your job.”
Tate is one of several players who came away from a loss to Georgia wanting to improve, especially on the offensive side of the ball. At the same time, it’s the circumstances of last weekend’s opener and what the Tigers have in front of them that offers room for optimism.
The Tigers’ offensive line probably won’t face a better defensive line in 2021 than what it just faced. And they did it in the first game, with a freshman left guard, and a left tackle, Jordan McFadden, who played on the right side last year, a first-year starter at right tackle, Walker Parks, and a center, Matt Bockhorst, who was a left guard until this season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stood behind his offensive line this week, saying these five, including right guard Will Putnam, are the “right guys.” Tate may have been prone to mental slip-ups and unsound technique vs. Georgia, falling victim to Davis at times. “But he’s the best guy,” as Swinney put it.
“He’s earned it,” Swinney continued. “Sometimes it doesn’t always just carry right over to the field. He’s practiced well, he’s practiced well against good people. It’s not like he hasn’t seen good people. He’s been going against (Bryan) Bresee and those guys all spring and all camp. He gives us a great presence in there. He’s going to be an outstanding player.”
That is a strong statement, because it’s not often a freshman offensive lineman is strong enough to rise to the top of a depth chart filled with other massive humans. But this was always Tate’s expectation.
The native of Sunrise, Fla., recalls looking at Clemson’s depth chart during the recruiting process, believing there would be an opportunity to play early. His coaches, including NSU University School head coach Daniel Luque, told him to have faith in his rare combination of size and athleticism.
“They had a lot of confidence in me, just knowing I can go in here, and I’m good enough, and I have the tools to start as a freshman,” Tate said. “They always instilled that in me, to always think that, every day, ‘You belong here’ and ‘They chose you to come here for a reason.’ Now, just prove it.”