It’s never good when the starting quarterback gets knocked out of a game. However, there was a sliver lining to Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle injury in Saturday’s 28-14 win over Wake Forest.
The Clemson coaching staff got to see how backups Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson respond to game pressure when the outcome is undecided and there is more than 22 minutes left to play.
After Clemson scored its third touchdown in the third quarter, starting quarterback Kelly Bryant came out with an ankle injury allowing redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper to enter the game. After two series, he was replaced by freshman Hunter Johnson.
“We had Zerrick two series,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “Those guys have really been rolling a lot with the second group in practice. So once we gave Zerrick two series we wanted to give Hunter two series. Once he got two we were going back to Zerrick so that was how that rotation worked — get them as many reps as we could.”
Scott was pleased with what he saw from both quarterbacks and knows that gaining in-game experience is the most valuable resource for them.
“I thought it was good those other two quarterbacks got some experience,” said Scott. “There is no substitute for game experience. You can practice all you want but until you actually get out there in a game, it makes a big difference.
“I think those guys are going to be better for that. We will go back and watch the video and really grade those guys and see what they need to work on. Overall they did what it took to get the job done. We’ll go back and coach up on a few of the other things.”
Saturday’s game was a memorable one for both Johnson and tight end Cannon Smith as Johnson’s 13-yard pass in the end zone to Smith was Johnson’s first career touchdown pass and Smith’s first touchdown.
“I give Hunter Johnson and the running back that was in there credit,” Scott said. “They did a great job on the play action. A low pass, really sold it.
“Cannon’s a guy who we’ve counted on a lot to be there in some blocking situations so we knew he could be a guy that could slip up past those linebackers. He did a great job with his release which is a little bit difficult in that situation where those linebackers are on top of you. It was a great fake by Hunter and actually Cannon did a good job of going to make that catch so that was a great play and a great way to finish.”
Although Bryant exited the game and had a walking-boot on afterward, Scott and Bryant himself do not seem too worried. Scott feels Saturday’s game was extremely important for Cooper and Johnson.
“It’s critical,” he said. “It’s going to be a long season and guys are going to get banged up. There are going to be times when Kelly has to come out so we have confidence in those guys and what they’ve done in practice.
The Tigers now improve to 6-0 on the season and 4-0 in the ACC and start preparing for a short week as they travel to Syracuse, N.Y., to take on the Orange this Friday night.
“Now the next step is being able to go into a game and this experience they had today is definitely going to pay dividends. We’re going to watch the video,” Scott said. “It was kind of hard from the sidelines because there was a lot going on… I think it was great experience for them and something they can learn from.”