Short of perfection, long on ambition, Clemson completed its final full scrimmage in Death Valley with a few lingering questions before the season-opener against Auburn on Sept. 1 in the Georgia Dome.
The clock expired on trial and error.
“We’ve got two weeks to get dialed in,” coach Dabo Swinney said Saturday. “Like I told our team, this is their preseason game. This is all we can use to go on to make decisions. From that point, it’s the real deal. Can you perform on game day?”
There are rough edges that require further sanding. Nothing specifically concerned Swinney but he remained curious about how a team responds with sophomores and freshmen in critical roles.
“I don’t think we’re going to know that until we go play; how quickly we can bring those guys along to play at a high level,” he said. “We’ve got to come out of the gate roaring.”
Chief among the remaining personnel decisions are selecting the starters at left guard and right tackle. Sophomore David Beasley surged past sophomore Kalon Davis at guard last week. Redshirt freshman Shaq Anthony held the edge on redshirt freshman Joe Gore at tackle though Swinney said, “Neither one are write home to your mama about.”
“Whatever decisions are made, they’re not final decisions,” Swinney said. “You’ve got to start somewhere and you got a lot of competition out there.”
Swinney said he wanted to see quarterback Tajh Boyd continue to practice as if every snap counted. Boyd completed 13 of 22 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns during the scrimmage but threw two interceptions. Boyd threw nine of his 12 interceptions last year in the final third of the season and was prone to take a sack rather than bail out or throw the ball away.
“I think he’s improved, but he’s also had some moments where he’s taken some chances that he shouldn’t take. Sometimes that comes from that practice mentality,” Swinney said.
“I think he’s really worked hard on that. I think he’s bought into the fact that he has to make plays with his legs. It’s not going to be perfect always. I think he’s bought into the fact that he’s going to have to check the ball down, and to understand that you can’t take sacks in certain situations. He took 10 sacks last year by himself. It wasn’t anybody’s fault but his.
“We’ve got to see it on game day.”
Sophomore Cole Stoudt affirmed his status at backup quarterback, completing three of eight for 61 yards. Freshman Chad Kelly completed one of five passes, a 52-yard touchdown pass to Germone Hopper.
“I think he’s really come on the last two practices,” he said. “I think Cole right now if we played today would be our No. 2 guy.”
Even with the deep, experienced group at receiver, Swinney seemed reluctant to turn loose of freshman receiver Hopper. Swinney said he might delay decisions on which freshmen would redshirt.
“Some of them we may not make a final decision on until three games into this thing,” he said.
Among the other nuggets:
• Spencer Benton hit a 53-yard field goal that hit the back wall at the base of the West End Zone. “Hopefully, he is going to be a weapon for us from long range,” Swinney said.
• Isaiah Battle, a raw freshman who enrolled in January, continued to work at backup left tackle. “I’m hoping by the end of the year he can be a guy who can be as good as any tackle that we have.”
• Junior corner Martin Jenkins might receive a redshirt season to recover from an injury.
• Junior linebacker Quandon Christian was held out of practice with a hamstring injury.
• Sophomore receiver Martavis Bryant caught four passes for 97 yards and touchdowns of 66 and 13 yards.
And, Swinney said, the plan for Auburn would not require a detour with receiver Sammy Watkins in the penalty box. Suspended two games for his arrest in May, Watkins has practiced in a variety of roles, which Swinney believes could be a silver lining.
“We’re going to do what we do,” he said of the Auburn game.
“All last week we pretty much were playing the guys the way we’re going to go into the game.”