Clemson’s defensive front, which is already considered one of the best in college football, got a whole lot better in Saturday’s overtime victory over NC State.
After missing the first six games due to an injured foot, defensive end Austin Bryant made his first appearance when he played as a reserve defensive end in the Tigers’ 24-17 overtime win at Death Valley.
“It felt great just to be back out there with my team,” Bryant said afterwards.
He also felt good that he could contribute. Early in the fourth quarter, he teamed up with defensive tackle Carlos Watkins to sack quarterback Ryan Finley for a 4-yard loss.
“It was good to see him out there. He is fresh. I know that … Johnny fresh legs,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.
The half-sack turned out to be Bryant’s only tackle of the afternoon, but he was out on the field more than just the one play as he helped set the edge for the Tigers throughout the second half, especially on the final drive.
“It has been tough missing time, especially when they have been playing big games,” the sophomore said. “That is what you come to Clemson for to play in big games. I was just blessed and thankful to God for getting me healthy.”
Venables says it is nice to have another veteran presence on the defensive line.
“Austin is a guy that going into the year was penciled in as a starter. We have some numbers there on the D-line. His experience from a year ago, and he is a very mature kid that has worked really hard to get back,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said. “We trust him. I know Coach (Marion) Hobby has great trust in Austin to have him back out there in that game-winner helping set that edge was great.”
Because he took his time getting back, Bryant says he is pretty close to 100-percent.
“Today felt really good so I’m glad to just kind of get back in the flow of things,” he said.
As for the game itself, and the way it ended, the Clemson defensive end said it was one of the craziest games he has been a part of. When NC State’s Kyle Bambard lined up to attempt a game-winning 33-yard field goal with two seconds to play, Bryant says he did not know what to think.
“That was crazy because we really did not know what was going to happen. Maybe we get lucky and they miss it. Maybe we block it. Maybe somebody was watching out for us because he missed it and we got to go to overtime,” Bryant said.
And the Tigers ultimately got the win. Not a bad first day back.