Clemson Quarterback Battle Still Muddled, Stoudt Appears To Lead After Spring Game


Oct 5, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Cole Stoudt (left) drops back to pass during the fourth quarter against the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Clemson defeated Syracuse 49-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s annual Spring Game in Clemson, SC brought with it more than just thousands of orange clad Tiger fans. It also brought a bevy of story lines into Death Valley, perhaps none more prominent than the battle for the starting quarterback position come August. Saturday appeared to be a day where one of the quarterbacks could distance themselves from their peers. Instead, the QB waters seem to be as muddled as ever.

The competition has been heavily scrutinized for over a month now since spring practice got under way, with rising Senior Cole Stoudt, rising redshirt Junior Chad Kelly, and early Freshman enrollee Deshaun Watson vying for the starting gig. After Watson went down with a cracked collarbone in a scrimmage last week, it appeared that Stoudt and Kelly were in prime position to wow the coaching staff and fans with their play in the Orange and White game. Coaches and fans alike, walked away with a lot to be desired. Here’s some takeaway from Saturday afternoon’s affair.

The Winners

Cole Stoudt – Stoudt was already in a great position to win the starting job when spring practice began. He has the most experience in the offense and is coming off a season where he completed nearly 80% of his passes in back up duties. Add to that the recent injury to Watson and the poor play of Kelly in the spring game and you have a front runner for the starting job. While Stoudt’s numbers looked very good on Saturday (15-23, 158 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int), he didn’t impress me all that much. Yes, he did a lot of things you want him to do. He didn’t turn the ball over, and he completed 65% of his passes. But he also didn’t make any of the big plays that this offense has become accustomed to in the recent years under Tajh Boyd. Stoudt’s first touchdown pass of the game was a short pitch and catch to Mike Williams that saw the receiver scamper 30 yards downfield before diving into the end zone. While Stoudt didn’t have an eye popping game in my estimation, he certainly did enough to put himself in the lead at this point to start the August 30th opener at Georgia.

DeShaun Watson – The highly touted Georgia prospect had been praised by Coach Dabo Swinney throughout spring practice prior to suffering his unfortunate collar bone injury. As a Freshman battling with two upperclassmen, Watson must have thought his chances at playing in 2014 went out the window with the injury. Well, in the words of the great Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend!” After seeing the play of Stoudt, Kelly, and third stringer Nick Schuessler on Saturday, I think Watson may still have an outside shot at starting his Freshman year. Obviously Watson needs to get healthy, and he can still benefit from adding on some bulk to his slender frame, but if he is able to show that he has a solid grasp on the offense in the coming months, the talent is all there for Watson to be starting Between The Hedges.

Dabo Swinney – Say what you want about Dabo, but he runs a tight ship (or at least appears to). He is not afraid to suspend players when they violate rules (Sammy Watkins in 2012, the four suspensions for the Georgia game in 2014), and he is certainly not afraid to call out players who are displaying a poor attitude. That is exactly what happened on Saturday. Chad Kelly was visibly upset following a decision to punt the ball on 4th and short in the first half, so Swinney decided to bench the quarterback for the second half of the game, giving Schuessler an opportunity to show what he can do. The benching was a win for Swinney for one reason; he once again got to prove that in a college football landscape full of liars and cheaters, he still sticks to his morals and values and won’t stand for poor behavior on his football team.

The Losers

Chad Kelly – I have not been shy about my affection for Kelly. I wrote just two days ago that I thought going into the game, he had the edge in the battle for the starting job. And now, just two days later, I think he is squarely behind Stoudt for that honor. Kelly looked disgruntled and disheartened for much of the first half. He forced two balls that he shouldn’t have thrown that turned into interceptions, and the offense looked stagnant for much of his time on the field. And obviously, what’s worse than his poor play, was his poor attitude. It definitely is not too late for Kelly to win over Swinney with better sportsmanship, teamwork, and play, but Kelly appeared to only hurt himself on Saturday. He finished 10-18 for 118 yards, 0 TDs and those 2 Ints.

Dabo Swinney – Swinney makes the Losers list as well because he did not get to see what he must have been hoping for from this game. Cole Stoudt was solid, Chad Kelly was disappointing, and Deshaun Watson was watching from the sidelines with his arm in a sling. Perhaps the most important decision in determining how far this team goes in 2014 will be who the starting quarterback is, and Swinney probably feels as far away from a making a decision on a starter as he did March 1.

Final Takeaway

It’s April 14. Nothing has even come close to being determined for the season opener. While Stoudt appears to have the lead now, any number of things can happen in the next 3-4 months to change that. I still think Watson is too inexperienced and small to start right away, but he certainly has a shot at winning this job. And Kelly may be the best combination of talent and experience the Tigers have under center, but he won’t see the field if his attitude problems keep up. One thing is for certain, this battle will be well worth keeping an eye on in the coming months.