LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Clemson’s game plan was quite simple, really. Get Kelly Bryant involved early. Get him to feel comfortable and confident and then let him take over the game.
And that’s what happened.
Bryant threw for 316 yards on 22-of-32 passing and totaled three touchdowns in leading the second-ranked Tigers to an impressive 47-21 victory over No. 14 Louisville at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday.
“It was very important to get him comfortable early, especially on the road,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “It was the first road test for us. We knew that the noise was possibly going to be an issue … just the excitement around the game with College GameDay. So we knew there would be a lot of emotions that would be thrown early.
“We wanted to get him settled in and see if we could establish the running game.”
On the Tigers’ first drive of the game, Bryant went 4-for-4 for 53 yards, including a 40-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow, which led to his own 8-yard run and an early 7-0 lead with 9:45 left in the first quarter.
“We had some game-plan specific shots we wanted to take down the field. It was good to connect on those early and then he found some opportunities to run the ball,” Elliott said. “It was good to just get in sync early on and find that rhythm which we did not have last week versus Auburn.”
In the second quarter, Bryant threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Ray-Ray McCloud and then in the third quarter he ran through the A-gap for a one-yard touchdown to blow the game wide open.
“It feels good to get a road win under our belt,” Bryant said. “It says a lot about our team. It was good to come out here and do what we did offensively.”
What Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC) did was total 613 yards overall. Average 7.6 yards per play, rush for 297 yards and go 9-of-17 on third down. But none of that would have happened had Bryant not made the plays that he did.
Bryant finished the game 6-for-9 for 99 yards on third down after going 6-for-7 against Auburn a week ago. He also added 26 yards rushing and two scores for a career high 342 yards of total offense.
“He was awesome,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He had a couple of shaky moments early, he was high on a couple of throws, and we missed a couple of layups, to be honest with you. He just settled in, and the throws to Ray-Ray and Deon (Cain) that got called back … He settled in and played a heck of a game.”
And in doing so, Bryant outshined last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, who struggled all night against Clemson’s defense. Jackson completed just 21 of 42 passes, was sacked four times and threw an interception that Dorian O’Daniel returned 44 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“I just did my job,” Bryant said. “I did everything the coaches asked me to do and just tried to lead my guys out there.”
—Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports