It is safe to say most of the record crowd of 60,000 fans in attendance for Saturday’s annual Orange & Game came to watch quarterbacks Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson. And though they got to see those three quarterbacks make a few plays here and there, it was a different quarterback that showed out.
Tucker Israel, who was considered the fourth-string quarterback coming into the game, completed 13 of 19 passes for 94 yards in helping the Orange team to a 19-14 victory over the White team. Israel threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trevion Thompson with 3:42 to play in the third quarter to cap a seven-play, 42-yard scoring drive, which also turned out to be the winning score.
“Personally, I feel like I can do better,” Israel said afterward. “That is just me being hard on myself. We had a great quarterback role model in here before named Deshaun (Watson) and so there is a lot to live up to so whoever the starting quarterback is at this university, there is always something we can improve on. I feel like I did a decent enough job, but I feel like there is always room for improvement.”
Though Israel shined, it was not like the three other guys everyone came to see did not make their share of plays, too. Bryant, who also quarterbacked the Orange team, ran the football 12 times for 66 yards, including a 20-yard run, while scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run. Cooper was 11 of 18 for 81 yards, while running for 26 yards on five carries for the White team.
“Kelly, if we played today, he would be the guy,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “But we don’t play today, we play in September. Everything matters, everything counts. I’m really pleased with the spring all four of them had. Zerrick and Hunter had some really good days and have had some inconsistent days.
Johnson, who enrolled in January, threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Diondre Overton just before halftime that got the White team on the scoreboard. The Orange team led 13-7 at the break. Johnson finished the game 5-of-13 for 48 yards.
Johnson threw one pass into double coverage which was picked off by Denzel Johnson. Bryant also threw an interception, as did Cooper.
“Both (Cooper and Johnson) are really growing and learning every day,” Swinney said. “It was a good 15 days of spring practice for Zerrick, it was his first spring. Hunter has been here just 15 practices. Now they will take that into the summer, and now they will get installation all over again so by the time they get to the fall, and if they work, you will see the transformation.”
But the day belonged to Israel, who Swinney said is “a gamer.”
“He knows what to do and he knows how to play,” Swinney said. “He does not have some of the tools that some of those other guys have, but he is the epitome of what you want. Just take what you got and make the best of it. He is a good football player.
“I think all four of them have done a good job, but I’m really pleased with how they are trying to lead. Again, it is good healthy competition, but Kelly has done a great job of giving us that veteran leadership there so I look forward to seeing where they are at when we get back together in August.”
—Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports