Prior to Saturday’s Spring Game at Memorial Stadium, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney took the microphone to thank the thousands in attendance for their support and promised they were about “to put on a show.” The fans may have thought they were about to be treated to a track meet courtesy of quarterback Cade Klubnik and new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. But with key offensive pieces unavailable to due to injury, both defenses took center stage, creating big plays and forcing key turnovers in the White team’s 20-13 victory over the Orange team.
Klubnik, quarterbacking the winning side, did showcase his ability to extend plays and complete 18 of his 33 passes for 190 yards. With wide receivers Beaux Collins, Adam Randall, Troy Stellato and Will Taylor unavailable, Klubnik relied heavily on tight ends Jake Briningstool (3 catches, 56 yards) and Banks Pope (4 catches, 56 yards) to move the ball. It remains to be seen if Klubnik’s focus on attacking the middle of the field is a function of Riley’s playbook or simply the comfort level with the personnel available.
Klubnik also tossed a pair of interceptions, but in his postgame comments, Swinney attributed those picks to defensive playmaking. And both defenses certainly made some plays. Freshman defensive tackle Peter Woods (Orange) appeared unblockable. Woods was credited with seven tackles and a sack but his impact couldn’t be measured statistically. He consistently tossed aside would-be blockers to clog up the running game or disrupt Klubnik’s timing. Swinney said Woods can play any position or technique along the defensive line and is excited about how he’ll impact the defense this Fall.
RJ Mickens (Orange) turned Klubnik away on 4th down with an interception at the goal line and Andrew Mukuba returned another interception to the two-yard line. Mukuba’s pick set up a touchdown run from Domonique Thomas to give the Orange a 10-7 lead before halftime.
In the end, however, it was a pair of plays made by a newcomer and a walk-on that decided the game. With the game tied 13-13 in the fourth quarter, freshman safety Khalil Barnes stepped in front of Christopher Vizzina’s pass and returned it 22 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Moments later, walk-on Bubba McAtee (Daniel HS) clinched it with another interception of Vizzina. McAtee was likely getting more playing time because Tyler Venables, McAtee’s high school teammate, was unavailable to due to a hamstring injury.
The offensive missteps did nothing to dampen Swinney’s spirits. Swinney was excited about what he saw from the crop of freshmen, many of whom were logging extra snaps in place of injured veterans.
Junior running back Domonique Thomas (Orange), nicknamed “Quadzilla,” stepped up in Shipley’s absence, rushing 14 times for 63 yards and a score.
In addition to picking off four passes, the two defenses combined to force 15 punts. Also of note is the performance of kicker Liam Boyd, who drilled a 51-yard field goal with room to spare and sailed multiple kickoffs into the end zone.
Clemson fans will have to wait for the season opener at Duke on Sept. 4th to see Garrett Riley’s offense with the team’s full complement of playmakers.