There was never any intent for quarterback Tajh Boyd to play in Clemson’s spring football game. Boyd said he wasn’t in on the secret until a few days earlier.
The plan, coach Dabo Swinney said Saturday, was to give Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly opportunities to extend their spirited competition for the backup job, and it seemed to be working fine until Kelly, a redshirt freshman from Buffalo, N.Y., was severely injured trying to extend a run during his team’s second possession.
Swinney said Kelly apparently tore a knee ligament, which likely would require surgery. An MRI will provide the answer, and Swinney retained hope to have Kelly back by late next fall.
“My heart just breaks for him,” Swinney said. “He’s worked so hard. He’s had a great spring. He was so fired up to go play today, and got off to a great start. It’s just a fluky thing.”
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Stoudt, the incumbent, noticed Kelly making a convincing case until the injury. In his first possession in Death Valley, Kelly completed 6 of 7 passes for 43 yards, including a touchdown pass to Charone Peake. Kelly also flashed more mobility, rushing for 23 yards on 4 carries, on this day one too many.
“I hated that we didn’t get to see Chad all day,” Swinney said. “At least everybody got a chance to get a little glimpse of what that guy can do.”
Other than the injury to Kelly, it was a good day to be Stoudt.
“We’re all hurt that he’s hurt. We’re all going to be here for him,” Stoudt said. “Competing with him made both of us and Tajh better.”
Unable to reach the end zone with his first three possessions, Stoudt passed for touchdowns on the next four, two to Sammy Watkins, one each to Stanton Seckinger and Adam Humphries.
Stoudt and Watkins broke Clemson spring game records for passing and receiving yardage. Stoudt’s 304 yards came on 16 of 24 passes, breaking the record 290 set by Charlie Whitehurst in 2004. Watkins’ 156 yards on seven catches broke the record 174 set by Rendrick Taylor in 2006.
“Cole’s had a real good spring,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “He’s gotten a lot better, but he’s got a long way to go. We’ve all got a long way to go.”
Martavis Bryant flashed his athleticism as a potential complement to Watkins with 7 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. It was also hard to miss freshman tight end Jordan Leggett, who caught 7 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown, or sophomore Stanton Seckinger who caught a 75-yarder from Stoudt.
Other than Kelly’s injury, Swinney thought the team emerged relatively unscathed. Guard Kalon Davis and tight end Sam Cooper also sustained knee injuries in the first 20 plays, but neither was anticipated to be as crippling as Kelly’s. Davis had been making a push for a starting job.
The two teams ran more than 90 plays for more than 600 yards in the first half. The Orange team rallied from a two-point halftime deficit to prevail, 34-26.
“I think that we achieved our goals and objectives,” Swinney said. “We’re at a good spot from a get-ready standpoint.
“I’ll be excited to get back to work with them.”