Offense starts hot, defense finishes strong in Tigers' first scrimmage

Zach Lentz

CLEMSON— Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney could not hide the enthusiasm he had for his team and the progress that they have made this fall following the Tigers' first scrimmage of fall camp.

“Today was a great day,” Swinney said. “So critical to our preparation and getting ready for the season. We've got 19 days and this is our first preseason game. It’s the best we can do to simulate a game and get our guys ready. We don't have any other way to do it. We really only have two true preseason games.

 Today was just seeing where we are, put the thermometer in there and see where we are. Are we right on schedule? Do I need to turn it up, turn it down? Expose some guys. Sometimes guys think they have got it, but then they get exposed a little bit when you get into a live situation”

While the majority of the fans and the media may be expecting the Tiger offense to lead the 2019 team, Swinney stated that, at least in the first scrimmage, it was a fairly even battle.

"I thought the offense exploded out of the gate, and then they faded," Swinney said. "I thought the defense got off to a slow start, then they finished well. So there was some good and bad on both sides. We had some sloppy penalties that we need to clean up on both sides.

"So this will be a great tape for us. Everybody be coachable, everybody understand, this is where we are and and then let's chart the path for how we're going to get better over these next 19 days."

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables echoed Swinney's comments about the defense and the way they played, as he tried on a new, positive approach.

"Good in some spots, inconsistent early—come out the first three drives and were good. Then about four drives that were not-so-good with attack and swarm," Venables said. "Had a few guys down in that second group, so some (third-string) guys that had to step up and saw some good things and got exposed at times. But we responded and played real well the next seven or eight of the next nine drives. 

"I think that 10 of the first 19 drives were punts, so some really good stuff there. We've gotta play more physical, more discipline, a better understanding of what not only I'm doing, but what other people around me are doing."

Ngata keeps improving; Ladson out with a knee injury

True freshmen wide receivers Joe Ngata and Frank Ladson Jr. have received a lot of praise for their ability to step on the field and make plays through spring practice and the first week of fall camp.

But it is Ngata earned the praise of his head coach following the Tigers' scrimmage.

“Ngata has just been awesome,” Swinney said. “He’s just getting better. He’s really had a great camp and had a great day today.”

Ladson will be out for the next "couple of weeks," as he looks to rehab a knee that has been bothered by some irritation. Swinney expects Ladson to be ready for the Tigers' opening game Aug. 29, against Georgia Tech.

Swinney on the kicking game:

One big area of concern for the Tigers' this season was the battle at placekicker. 

Gone is placekicker Greg Huegel, who exited Clemson ranked first in school history in career extra points (217) and second in career scoring (379 points), as well as Alex Spence, who served as the primary kicker in 2017 after losing Huegel to injury. Among those hoping to secure the role moving forward are sophomore B.T. Potter (Rock Hill, S.C.) and senior Steven Sawicki, who hit his lone field goal attempt in 2018, a 24-yarder at Florida State.

However, after the scrimmage, it is Potter who has separated himself.

“It’s not tight. Potter’s way out in front and it’s not even close,” Swinney said. “Potter’s been awesome. He’s had an unbelievable camp.”