CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coaches insist success is about more than just a few individual stars. Just because they sent their quarterback, leading receiver and leading rusher to the NFL after winning the national championship does not mean Clemson cannot get back to the playoff for a third straight season.
New Tigers starting quarterback Kelly Bryant stepped into his new role with 236 yards passing and a touchdown and 77 yards rushing in his first start to lead No. 5 Clemson (1-0) to a 56-3 victory over Kent State on Saturday.
The game was much closer to an exhibition than a true test. The Tigers gained 665 yards to 120 yards for the Golden Flashes (0-1), who seemed more intent on getting back to Ohio unharmed, passing the ball just five times with one completion for one yard.
But it was an important confidence booster for Bryant , the junior who never had any serious playing time his first two seasons backing up Deshaun Watson.
Bryant had a perfectly placed 61-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain on his second drive. He mirrored Watson’s running ability, taking off for a 47-yard run after all his receivers were covered. And he showed the “swag” that coach Dabo Swinney promised to fans skittish about Watson’s departure.
“That’s what I was hoping to see,” coach Dabo Swinney said about his new starter. “That’s what I have seen in practice for a while.”
Bryant led Clemson on an 89-yard touchdown drive that put Clemson ahead 35-3 to start the second half, and then Swinney played his backups.
“I wasn’t surprised. I knew the type of player I was,” said Bryant, who was so loose he made sure he put an official’s hat back on his head after accidentally knocking it off.
Bryant had a rough spring game and Swinney didn’t commit to him starting until about halfway through opening practices in August. But the coach left little doubt where his mind is now.
When asked if they were happy that Clemson’s backup quarterbacks got to play, Swinney and the other coaches quickly insisted Bryant was the undisputed starter.
“It was special for everybody else to see what we’ve been seeing. Sometimes you maybe don’t believe the coaches when we talk about all the success we’ve had during fall camp,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
THE TAKEAWAY: The Golden Flashes did not attempt a pass in 25 first-half plays, despite facing a third-and-28 at one point. Their quarterbacks completed one pass in five attempts for a yard. Kent State used four QBs last year, averaging just 141.7 yards a game passing. Only seven other Football Bowl Subdivision teams threw for less.
“We wanted to utilize the clock as much as we could in our favor,” said offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who is filling in while head coach Paul Haynes is on medical leave.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said he was stunned Kent State didn’t pass it more since The Tigers stuffed run-first teams last year.
“They must not have watched that Georgia Tech film,” Venables said.
Clemson’s 665 yards were more than they did in any game in the 2016 season. Sure, it was against Kent State but after losing top receiver Mike Williams and rusher Wayne Gallman the opener gave Clemson fans nothing to worry about.
“The standard doesn’t change,” Scott said.