Kelly Bryant continues to grow up right before our eyes.
Though he is not putting up the same gaudy-like numbers his predecessor did at the quarterback position for second-ranked Clemson, he has been just as impressive in what he has done. And none of his performances so far this season were better than what he did this past Saturday for the defending national champions.
I have to admit, I thought Bryant might struggle somewhat in his matchup with Bud Foster. What Virginia Tech does on defense, especially when Foster has an experienced group like he has this year, will generally confuse inexperienced quarterbacks. Heck, Foster has been known to confuse fifth-seniors who have started for two or three seasons.
However, in Clemson’s win at No. 12 Virginia Tech on Saturday, Bryant never got rattled, or if he did he did not show it. He stayed within the game plan and more importantly he protected the football.
“I thought early on, Bud was very, very aggressive with a lot of man pressure and took some chances with some pressures, and Kelly knew exactly where to go with the ball,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
The best example of that came on the Tigers’ opening drive, when Bryant recognized on the third play Ray-Ray McCloud was in single coverage. He threw a nice ball where only McCloud could make a play, which the junior did with a nice catch for a 27-yard gain to the Hokies’ 22.
Again on third down, he made another good throw a few plays later when he hit Hunter Renfrow, who was in single coverage and broke open to the flag, for a 16-yard gain to the Virginia Tech three.
“After that, I think Bud kind of backed off a little bit and wanted to play a little more zone and mix things up,” Elliott said. “That robber coverage that he wants to play, that he gets credit for inventing there, makes it very, very tough to run the ball and it makes it tough to get your quick-passing game going.
“So in the situation we were in, you want to be aggressive, but at the same time you have to take the ball off the line, you have to protect, and you have to throw it over the top. Those are not high percentage balls considering the flow of the game, but I thought Kelly did a really, really good job of protecting the ball, running the ball, protecting it while he was running it, protecting it while he was throwing it. He did not make bad decisions from what I could tell.”
The best example of how well Bryant played came on his 60-yard touchdown pass to Tavien Feaster on the Tigers’ second possession of the night. On the third-and-four play, he noticed his first option, a drag route, was taken away. His second read, a dig, was open, but he saw Feaster slipped out of the backfield and into the flats and was uncovered.
“I could see Feaster had his hand out. He did the rest,” Bryant said. “There was nobody there and he just made a play.”
The touchdown pass to Feaster gave Clemson a 10-0 lead at the time, and told Foster he was not going to be able to confuse Bryant like he had hoped.
Bryant finished the night completing 12-of-21 passes for 186 yards. He also ran for a game-high 94 yards on 19 carries. However, the most important stat, he had no turnovers.
“I’m just super impressed with him thus far this season,” Elliott said. “He has gone on the road to two tough environments, against two tough defenses, and has played the way he has.”
Bryant’s performance was not perfect, and he was the first one to say as much in Saturday night’s post-game interview. He did miss Tee Higgins and Deon Cain on two plays in the same series that would have gone for touchdowns. He also threw too high on a couple of short passes to Cain, but as he said, “That is something I just have to keep repping. I just try not to get frustrated, especially in the first half. It is a long game so keep playing. I just want to make the routine plays.”
And he did that, and he did it very well. And that’s why the Tigers are 5-0 and in position again to play for another ACC Championship and maybe even more.