Like college coaches around the nation, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is always looking to build on his team’s depth. That wasn’t hard to do in the top-ranked Tigers opener as several highly-regarded freshmen played early and often in a win against Wake Forest.
Defensive linemen Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy combined for 2.5 of Clemson’s six sacks in the 37-13 win while on the other side of the ball, strong-armed first-year quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei saw his first college action as starter Trevor Lawrence’s backup.
“It’s not anything new for us,” Swinney said Tuesday.
Indeed, it is. Clemson played 78 of the 80 players it brought to Wake Forest. The Tigers led the nation the previous two seasons — both which ended in the national championship game — in the number of players used per game.
Swinney acknowledged that strong backups may be more essential this season as the Tigers play amid a nationwide pandemic.
Three of Clemson’s most experienced defensive starters in end Justin Foster and cornerbacks Derion Kendrick and Mario Goodrich were unavailable because of medical protocols.
Swinney said Kendrick and Goodrich should return to face Citadel of the Football Championship Subdivision for Clemson’s home opener Saturday while Foster will remain out.
“This year, it’s never been more important” to get players time on the field, he said.
That was certainly true of Murphy and Bresee, two of the most coveted defensive prospects in last year’s high school class.
Murphy is a 6-foot-5 end from Marietta, Georgia, who seemed to be in the Wake Forest backfield as much as the Demon Deacons. Murphy led Clemson with seven tackles, two of them sacks.
“My first drive out there, I was very nervous,” Murphy said. But after his first hit, he went back to football.
“After that, it was like high school ball and I just did what I do out on the field,” he said.
Bresee, also 6-5, is a tackle from Damascus, Maryland. He finished with 3.5 tackles while he and Murphy became the first Tigers’ freshmen to post sacks in their debut games in four years.
Bresee also blocked a field goal.
It was a strong start to what defensive coordinator Brent Venables hopes to see often the next few seasons. He was also amused y Bresee’ eagerness; who was called for an offsides penalty on one of his first snaps before settling in.
“He was like a big puppy dog, a big Labrador, you let him outside for the first time and bring him home for the first time and he’s wetting all over the place,” Venables joked.
The results were pleasing for Murphy and Bresee, who are becoming close and have discussed wanting to make an impact right away.
Bresee and Murphy likely have more playing time ahead with Foster’s continued absence and starting defensive tackle Tyler Davis spraining a knee ligament against Wake Forest that should keep him out another week or two.
On the other side of the ball, it was Uaigalelei who subbed in at quarterback for Lawrence, a junior who has said this will be his last season in college.
Uaigalelei, of Inland Empire, California, was ranked the No. 2 overall prospect by Rivals.com. He’s considered Lawrence’s eventual successor and the latest in line of strong-armed quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans and this year’s starter in Lawrence.
“I know if I were a young guy, I’d be excited to play with D.J.,” fifth-year tight end J.C. Chalk said.
Uiagalelei, a solid 6-4, 250 pounds, completed two of three passes and ran a mistake-free offense in his two series.
He said a big reason he chose to play at Clemson — Uiagalelei had offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma among others — was to learn from Lawrence.
“When he steps on the field, he’s got that business mindset,” Uiagalelei said. “Every single rep matters, every single rep counts.”
And playing behind Lawrence was a better long-term prospect than going somewhere he could start right away.
“I’m right behind the best player in the country,” Uiagalelei said. “I get to pick his brain, see how he does it and learn from him.”
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