When replacing electrifying players like Deshaun Watson and Jordan Leggett, the best thing to do sometimes is to let the two guys who replaced them, see that you have just as much confidence in them as you did the previous two.
During Clemson’s run to national prominence the last two years, the Watson-to-Leggett tandem became very instrumental in the Tigers’ offensive success. In each of Clemson’s four comeback victories last year, including the national championship game, the two always came up with a big play that either won the game for Clemson or set up the game-winning touchdown.
So it was of no surprise on Clemson’s third offensive play of the season last week, co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott ran a bootleg to Kelly Bryant’s right, where he threw his first pass as Clemson’s new quarterback to the Tigers’ new tight end, Milan Richard.
The play went for 26 yards and led to Clemson’s first touchdown of the season on the next play. But the play did more than that, it set the stage for the whole afternoon in Death Valley and gave its new quarterback and tight end a lot of confidence going forward.
“It felt like a long time coming,” Richard said earlier this week as No. 3 Clemson gets set to host No. 13 Auburn Saturday night in Death Valley. “I mean it was great, but you know anytime you can help the team win. I was really happy for Kelly. That was big for me. I knew that play was coming so it was really big deal for me to catch that ball because I knew it would help Kelly a lot too and help our offense get in a rhythm.
“It was a lot bigger than just me, it was big for the team.”
It did get the offense going as the Tigers scored the first three times they touched the football. They finished the day with an opening game record 665 yards. Bryant completed 16 of 22 passes for 236 yards with one touchdown, while running for another 77 on seven carries.
“I have just as much confidence in Kelly (Bryant) as I did in Deshaun (Watson),” Richard said. “I have just as much confidence in all of our guys to get the job done. We practice with them every day so we see things that y’all don’t see. Honestly, I have confidence in no matter who it is starting.”
Richard finished his first game as a starter with two catches for 70 yards, including a 44-yard pass from Bryant on the third play of the third quarter, which again got the offense rolling. That play led to a 2-yard C.J. Fuller touchdown. The Tigers scored on each of their first four possessions to the start the second half in route to scoring 56 points.
However, more than anything else, it was a nice start for a Bryant-to-Richard connection that the Clemson coaching staff hopes becomes every bit as productive as the Watson-to-Leggett one was.
“I don’t know if I took it as a challenge but maybe just as motivation,” Richard said. “To just be prepared and go out and play well, I mean everyone wants to play well whether it was someone leaving and I was just stepping in or whatever the situation was. Everyone wants to just go out and perform well and always try to help the team win.”