Kelly Bryant tallied 313 yards of total offense and two touchdowns to lead No. 5 Clemson to a 56-3 rout of Kent State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in the two teams’ season opener. Freshman running back Travis Etienne added 81 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, while Deon Cain paced the receiving corps with 70 yards and a score as the Tigers compiled 665 yards of offense.
Defensively, Clemson kept the Golden Flashes out of the end zone and limited them to just one passing yard and 120 total yards while notching five tackles for loss.
So, how did the Tigers grade out in the victory over Kent State?
Bryant’s first career start couldn’t have gone much better. The junior made big plays with both his arm and his legs as he completed 16-of-22 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 77 yards and another score on seven carries. Bryant’s ability to throw the deep ball has been questioned, so he silenced some critics when he dropped in a 61-yard dime to Cain for a touchdown in the second quarter. Later in the second quarter, Bryant capped a 55-yard drive with an 8-yard scamper untouched into the end zone. The native of Calhoun Falls, S.C., was accurate for the most part, with his only blemishes being an interception in the end zone off of a tipped ball and a few balls that he threw behind his receivers. However, it was a strong all-around performance for Bryant, who was poised, made good decisions and displayed his ability to lead the offense. The season opener should serve as a big confidence boost for him heading into a big showdown with Auburn next weekend.
Both true freshman Hunter Johnson and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper showed well in reserve action. Cooper went 4-of-6 for 37 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown toss to Cornell Powell that marked the former’s first career touchdown pass and latter’s first career touchdown catch. Johnson had 39 yards passing on a 5-of-6 clip.
Running back: A
Each of Clemson’s scholarship running backs had at least one score, with C.J. Fuller recording two. The freshman Etienne led the Tigers in rushing with 81 yards on eight carries and showed off his explosiveness with a 54-yard run. Tavien Feaster flashed his dynamic playmaking ability as well with a 47-yard score in the third quarter. Adam Choice added four carries for 20 yards, including a 3-yard rush that put Clemson up 21-0 late in the first quarter. It was an impressive day as a group for the aforementioned backs, who averaged 8.8 yards per carry between them.
Clemson didn’t have a 100-yard receiver on the day and had only two explosive plays through the air (plays of 20 yards or more), though it was a solid day for the receivers nonetheless. Cain logged one of the explosive plays on his long 61-yard touchdown reception from Bryant, and Richard registered a 44-yard catch-and-run for the other. Both Cain and Richard had a team-high 70 receiving yards on two catches apiece. While there was no one outstanding individual performance, a lot of guys got involved as 15 different players caught at least one pass. Unlike last season’s home opener against Troy, there weren’t many dropped passes.
The Tigers played all nine scholarship receivers, including the two freshmen, Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. Higgins made a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone but was flagged for a questionable pass-interference penalty.
Offensive line: A
Clemson’s offensive line paved the way for 353 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 43 carries for an average of 8.2 yards per attempt. Clemson broke three big runs of 54, 47 and 47 as well as runs of 26 and 21 yards. The Tigers also did not allow a sack. The hog mollies should be pleased when they receive their postgame grades.
Defensive Line: A
Kent State ran the ball 44 times but was able to muster just 119 yards rushing. The Golden Flashes averaged 2.4 yards per rush with a long of 19 yards. Defensive end Austin Bryant had a lot to do with Kent State’s lack of success on the ground as the junior posted five tackles including four solo tackles. Clelin Ferrell also got in on five tackles, while Sterling Johnson notched a tackle for loss. Nyles Pinckney, Albert Huggins and Logan Rudolph each had half a tackle for loss.
Two of Clemson’s top three tacklers were linebackers. Kendall Joseph and Chad Smith both had six tackles and combined for 1.5 tackles for loss. Jalen Williams recorded five tackles, including a tackle for loss, and J.D. Davis also had five stops.
It’s tough to judge the secondary’s performance in this game. Kent State passed the ball only five times for one yard, so the secondary went virtually untested and there’s not much to evaluate. If you were surprised by the Golden Flashes’ unwillingness to put the ball in the air, you weren’t the only one. “We were really surprised,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said afterward. “They must not have watched the Georgia Tech game. That’s what it reminded me of.”
Special teams: A
Clemson didn’t have any field-goal chances but converted all eight of its point-after attempts. That’s a big deal because the Tigers are working with a new long-snapper as well as a new holder in Will Swinney. They went unnoticed, and that’s a good thing. Will Spiers and Carson King each punted one time for 49 yards, with Spiers pinning his inside the 20-yard line.