Do you smell what I smell, football fans? Of course you do! It is the smell of Clemson football almost returning. On April 3, 2021, Clemson football had its inaugural spring football game, and the D.J. Uiagalelei era finally began.
The Orange team got off to a fast start as Uiagelei led them on an eight-play, 73-yard drive that was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown catch by freshman wide receiver Beaux Collins. Oddly enough, Collins and Uiagalelei were high school football teammates, so this immediate connection should not surprise anyone. The White team started off in an opposite fashion with a quick offensive three-and-out. However, they were blessed by team Orange's next drive. During a routine pitch from Uiagelei, running back Kobe Pace bobbled the ball, which resulted in a fumble that Sheridan Jones recovered and returned to the Orange squad's 36-yard line. Like its previous drive, team White suffered another three-and-out.
From that point on, the game remained slow, and the score stayed the same. To start the second quarter, the White team turned the ball over again, with R.J. Mickens picking off Taison Phommachanh. It was not until the final minute of the first half until the Orange team scored again. Capping off a 44-yard drive by team Orange, B.T. Potter made a 54-yard field goal to boost the lead to 10.
The second half remained scoreless until the one-minute mark when Potter made a 24-yard field goal to wrap up a 68-yard drive that extended team Orange's lead to 13. Perhaps the drive's best play was a 49-yard catch by receiver Joseph Ngata, who caught the ball over a defensive back's outstretched arms.
Quickly after the Orange team scored, the White team finally got on the scoreboard when Phommachanh hit receiver Ajou Ajou for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to six points. The drive took just under three minutes and traveled 75 yards.
With two minutes left in the game, team White scored another touchdown to take a 14-13 lead after Phil Mafah scored on a 4-yard touchdown run. Before the score, Phommachanh exited the game with a lower leg injury, which has since been confirmed as an Achilles tear.
Team Orange did not manage to score in the last two minutes of the game, which gave team White the 14-13 victory.
There were three main takeaways from the spring game: Clemson lacks quarterback depth, boasts legitimate stars at receiver and sports an outstanding secondary that has taken huge steps since playing Ohio State.
Clemson has a stud at quarterback in Uiagelei. He threw for 174 yards and a touchdown in limited action, but the Tigers' quarterback depth is very thin beyond him. For most of the game, Phommachanh did not look great and could not complete any deep passes. He improved in the second half and ended the game with 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception before tearing his Achilles. The other quarterback to receive playing time was Hunter Helms. Helms is still a young quarterback, and he posted 88 passing yards and an interception. Since Phommachanh will miss a significant amount of time, Helms needs to step up, which is tough to ask right away, since he will be just a sophomore next season. Hopefully, Uiagelei stays healthy, as there is no telling how a replacement quarterback would do if needed.
Although we were not able to watch Frank Ladson Jr. or Justyn Ross play during the spring game, Ajou and Ngata put on phenomenal performances for their teams. Ajou had six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, while Ngata had six catches for 83 yards. Both players have incredible size and speed, which will help them have great success in the upcoming season.
Finally, during the game, Clemson's secondary played lockdown defense. Whether it was Mickens, Andrew Booth Jr., or Nate Wiggins, Clemson's defensive backs were flying all over the place. In total, the two defenses gave up a collective 425 passing yards, which evens out to an impressively low 212.5 passing yards against each defense. On top of that, Mickens was able to pick off Phommachanh, while Booth made an incredibly acrobatic interception off a Phommachanh throw but was ruled out of bounds. Unfortunately, plays are not reviewed in the spring game, so Booth's interception did not count.
Overall, the Clemson spring game showed the amazing potential that Clemson's young and promising team has. Clemson will play its first regular season game on September 4, 2021, in Charlotte, North Carolina, against a very well-run program in the Georgia Bulldogs.