Spot the Ball!
When the weather in South Carolina begins to creep above 80 degrees, Clemson Football fans know the annual Spring Game is near. And while we are still several months away from the official start of college football, it’s never too early to start dreaming of what the Tigers can accomplish this season. The Spring Game is Clemson fans’ first opportunity to gauge what this team might be capable of in 2023.
The Spring Game is set to kickoff at 1:00 EST, on Saturday, April 15th. Admission is free at Memorial Stadium, and the scrimmage will be broadcast on ACCNX.
Here are Five things Clemson fans should watch for in this year’s matchup!
1. It’s all in the Fundamentals
In intrasquad scrimmages, it can often be difficult for spectators to differentiate great plays from mental mistakes. For example, if an interception is thrown, does one celebrate the corner’s athleticism, or distress over the quarterback’s miscue?
When a team is facing off against itself, it can be tough to tell what’s “good,” and what’s “bad.” But, there’s a simple solution: focus on the fundamentals.
No one expects the players to play flawlessly this early in the year, but what fans do hope to see is mental awareness and fundamental competency. What we are looking for are the little things:
Are the receivers breaking quickly off the line, are their routes tight and crisp? Are the quarterbacks dropping back in rhythm, are they transferring their weight when they throw? What techniques are the defensive ends using to get past their blockers…
These are very small, nit-picky, aspects of the game to focus on, but it will give us a better idea of where this team stands. Regardless of the scoreboard, if the Tigers are doing the little things right, fans should feel good about this team heading into the summer.
2. Riley’s Offense
Following the hire of former TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, national analysts and fans alike have assumed Clemson’s offense will resurge to its championship caliber proficiency. The Spring game will be the nation’s first clue as to if this expectancy is legitimate.
At TCU, Riley’s scheme was similar to that of the air raid system in terms of explosiveness, but with a more balanced run-pass attack. With the utilization of RPOs (run-pass options), pre-snap motions, and no-huddle tempos, his offense became known for producing big plays.
When featured on ACC Network, quarterback Cade Klubnik struggled to contain his excitement regarding the new offensive scheme.
"“Just with Coach Riley coming in, just the confidence and the energy that he’s going to bring, but also just the new style of play; it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be electric. And it’s going to be fast tempo and we’re going to be able to score a lot of touchdowns.”"
If Klubnik is right, Clemson fans should be excited about what they’ll see on Saturday. Expect lots of option plays, including RPOs. Likewise, watch for the no-huddle tempo, and take note of how the offense holds up in the faster pace of play.
Conversely, it will be interesting to see how the defense responds to Riley’s play calling. A big concern last season was this secondary, more specifically, how they succumbed to dynamic passing offenses such as South Carolina’s and Tennessee’s. It will be equally important to see how the corners and safeties respond to Riley’s scheme.
3. Klubnik’s Maturation
The last time Tiger fans saw quarterback Cade Klubnik, he was pulling turf out of his face mask in a tough Orange Bowl performance against the Tennessee Volunteers. In what was his first official college start, Klubnik passed for 320 yards, completing 30 of his 54 attempts, with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
While his effort was admirable, coaches know they’ll need to see improved play from Klubnik in 2023 if the Tigers hope to achieve their goals.
With the departure of former OC Brandon Streeter, Klubnik has spent the past few months working closely with new offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.
Riley’s work with quarterbacks in the past have led to positive results. His work with former TCU quarterback Max Duggan serves as the premier example. In just one year under Riley’s leadership, Duggan threw for 3,698 yards, 32 TDs and only 8 interceptions, passing for an additional 1,650 yards and 16 TD than he did a year prior. Likewise, Duggan led TCU’s explosive offense to a playoff win over Michigan and a berth to the College Football championship game.
Clemson fans are hoping to see similar results from Klubnik. While the quarterback had some stellar moments in 2022–most notably, the ACC championship win over North Carolina–they are hoping to see the young player really step into his own in 2023, establishing himself among the premier quarterbacks in college football.
Fans will hope to see signs of Klubnik’s improvement under Riley’s coaching this Saturday.
4. Peter Woods
Seemingly all off season, coaches have been raving over this “Peter Woods,” guy. Nick Eason was quoted by TigerNet, saying Woods has the potential to be:
"“one of the best thats ever come through Clemson…”"
Coach Lamanski Hall was similarly quoted by The Clemson Insider, saying:
"“I’m happy he’s on our team.”"
The 5-star recruit was sought after by several championship caliber programs, including Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, TCU, Southern Cal, and Oklahoma, but the talented defensive lineman chose to come play for Dabo Swinney.
Since then, coaches and players alike have not stopped singing his praises. It is possible–at this juncture, perhaps even likely–that Woods will compete for a starting job as early as this season.
Putting on an impressive show in the Spring game will only help his case. Watch for the young freshman to make an impact this Saturday.
5. Offensive Line
The Tiger’s offensive line has regressed a bit over the last two seasons when compared to their competency of their playoff years. If the Tigers hope to make a push for the postseason in 2023, they will need improved offensive line play.
As Rubbing the Rock writer John Chancey points out in his article, “Spring Game Rosters will be Different this Season,” fans will have the new opportunity to see the 1st team offense go head-to-head against the 1st team defense.
Under these new circumstances, the O-line will have a chance to prove their ability in the Spring game. Lining up opposite of Clemson’s 1st team defense, it is likely the front seven they must handle Saturday will be one of the most tenacious pass rushes they will see all season long.
While the O-line is missing some key players–Marcus Tate and Walker Parks are out this Spring–the Spring Game will give fans an opportunity to see how this unit stacks up against a top caliber defense, and foreshadow their ability to do so in this season’s biggest games.
Pack the Stadium Tiger Fans!
This year’s spring game seems to be generating more attention than usual. With so many new faces around the program, so many unanswered questions, and so much hype going into 2023, fans can’t wait to see if this Clemson team can live up to the billing.
Coach Eason is encouraging Tiger fans to pack the stadium this Saturday, hoping to break the previous Spring game attendance record of roughly 60,000. If you’re reading this article, we hope to see you in Death Valley this Saturday for kickoff!