Before first game, hard to tell how Clemson’s offense is shaping up

08/09/2014 8:44 PM

08/09/2014 8:45 PM

Discovering the essence of a Clemson football scrimmage requires a bit of forensic analysis because reporters aren’t permitted to watch and the characterizations can be contradictory.

Reading between the lines is urged.

“There were a lot of positives on both sides,” said coach Dabo Swinney, who credited quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson with fine performances and not much else after Saturday’s work in Death Valley.

“Cole Stoudt was outstanding today. He was awesome in his reads,” Swinney said. “He has had a very good week of practice. So has Deshaun Watson. He had a very good day also.”

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris, still spitting nails because of a perception that the offense – his “no name bunch” – isn’t receiving sufficient respect, offered a pedestrian overview in saying that Stoudt and Watson “did really well.”

Asked about Stoudt’s work on the deep pass, an intrinsic weapon in the Morris offense, he delivered a bit of veiled criticism.

“It’s been pretty good,” Morris said. “We keep working it every day. Until you get out there in live situations, it’s hard to tell. We’re throwing them, and we’ll catch them if he’ll get them close. Some we get close, and some we don’t. Those we throw out of bounds, we’ve got to keep them in bounds.”

In fairness, the next person to ask would be Stoudt, but he was unavailable for interviews after the scrimmage. While it’s rare for the quarterback to receive a pass, it’s not unprecedented. And it might have been shrugged off until running back C.J. Davidson told reporters Stoudt came off the field “banged up.”

Swinney had finished and was gone, so a reporter turned to Morris and inquired about Stoudt’s condition. Morris seemed oblivious, saying he was unaware of any injury, and, as planned, Watson finished the scrimmage with the first team.

Hours later, Twitter was humming with a snippet and blog report by The Charleston Post & Courier that Stoudt injured a leg but returned to the field. Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret, who watched the scrimmage, said he did not detect an occasion where Stoudt was injured.

Obviously, more will be culled over the coming days as Clemson continues to prepare for the opener at Georgia. If Stoudt was injured, or even “banged up,” it might retard progress, and possibly accelerate Watson’s learning curve.

But, more importantly, if Stoudt has struggled with his accuracy on home run balls, it would hobble a significant piece of Morris’ scheme. Morris eased off the throttle later in discussing Stoudt’s deep throws, suggesting, as Swinney did last week, that any disconnect might be attributable to his unfamiliarity with the four younger receivers.

“It’s so much of a timing accuracy with the receivers, too,” Morris said. “And he’s still trying to work that timing aspect with his receivers out.”

Stoudt and the offense opened the morning with a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive ending with a touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett. Stoudt and Watson each had two passing touchdowns – the others to running back Zac Brooks and receivers Germone Hopper and Kyrin Priester.

Swinney was encouraged by the offensive line without Isaiah Battle, kickoff coverage and returns by T.J. Green and C.J. Davidson, punt returns by Mackensie Alexander, two of three field goals by Ammon Lakip, punting by Bradley Pinion, the progress by enigmatic tight end J.J. McCullough (“his best scrimmage since he’s been here), and the dominance of the defense in goal line situations.

“We’re nowhere near being ready to play,” Swinney said. “If we’d played today, we get our butts kicked,

Morris saw a lot to like in the offensive line, particularly Joe Gore, who might have earned a starting job this week at right tackle subbing for Battle at left tackle.

“I think Joe Gore’s having a really good camp,” Morris said. “I don’t want to jinx him. It’s his time. He’s got talent. He’s got potential. This is a guy that’s got to come on, and he has done it.”

Of concern is the absence of continuity with as many as 12 players still in the mix. Not having a strong personality to shepherd the others – much like Dalton Freeman and Thomas Austin – is a big issue. “That group right there has to be together,” Morris said.

Defensively there’s not much concern, though coordinator Brent Venables wasn’t pleased with how it began.

“The offense came out and put together a nice drive at the beginning. That can’t happen if we’re going to have a great defense,” said Venables. “You’ve got to come out and find a way to get off the field.”

There were a couple of mental lapses, nothing he can’t correct, and no takeaways, but he credited the offense with its emphasis on ball security.

“Certainly not disappointed by any stretch of the imagination,” Venables said. “We’re a little bit off, (but) not by much.”

Read between the lines.

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