Entering Saturday’s game, Hunter Johnson knew he had an opportunity to get playing time. Not only did he play, but he looked impressive in doing it during No. 2 Clemson’s 61-3 victory over The Citadel in Death Valley.
After the Tigers jumped out to an early lead behind starting quarterback Kelly Bryant’s three touchdown passes, backups Zerrick Cooper and Johnson got their opportunities before halftime.
Johnson gave Clemson fans possibly a glimpse into the future, commanding the offense on a scoring drive that looked nearly flawless.
Prior to Saturday’s game, Johnson had thrown just 12 passes in his appearances verses Kent State, Louisville, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech. In those limited attempts, he completed every pass but one and had one touchdown pass.
Johnson knew he had a good shot at getting in against the Bulldogs and was eager for the opportunity to show what he is made of.
“Throughout practice this week we were definitely getting more reps because we expected to get in this game” said Johnson. “I just felt prepared when we got in there and took advantage of my opportunity.”
He definitely took advantage of his opportunity, putting together a stellar performance during his time in the game. Johnson completed 7-of-8 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown.
The freshman said it felt good to go out and take snaps against an opponent.
“In-game reps are great to get … some live action and take some hits” he said. “I enjoy being able to go out, be live, and make decisions.”
Johnson’s biggest play came on a deep ball to fellow freshman Tee Higgins. Johnson hit the receiver in stride on a go-route and Higgins hauled in the pass with one hand because his other arm was being held by The Citadel defender. Higgins stayed with it though, broke away from the defender, balanced himself down the sideline and ran the rest of the way for a 78-yard touchdown.
The Indiana native said the connection between Higgins and himself is nothing new but something that has been perfected in practice.
“Before that play me and Tee were talking on the sideline,” said Johnson. “He said, ‘Hey Hunter! Throw me that ball a couple of times,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I got you.’ We just connected and it was fun.”
On Johnson’s first drive he showed his ability to command the offense, leading the Tigers on a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive. He completed a pair of passes on the drive including a 41-yard completion to Deon Cain.
Johnson said he was just simply doing what he does in practice on a daily basis.
“Just go in there and like Coach (Brandon) Streeter says, treat it like practice and execute like you always have,” he said.
The freshman quarterback executed with near perfection on Saturday and may have given Clemson fans a glimpse into the future.