In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s 56-3 win over Kent State, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told anyone that would listen if Kelly Bryant played just 75 percent as well as he had in practice then the Tigers would be fine.
Well, Bryant played better than 75 percent and the Tigers were more than fine. In his first start as the quarterback the junior from Calhoun Falls tallied 236 yards passing and 77 rush yards while rushing for one score and throwing for another.
But it was not just the big numbers he put up that was so impressive, he was also efficient in doing so as he completed 16-of-22 passes. Though he was charged with an interception, which came in the end zone, the ball popped off his intended receiver’s body and it could have easily been another touchdown.
Clemson finished the game with 665 yards of offense. Backup quarterbacks Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson also looked good in relief as Cooper completed 4-of-6 passes for 37 yards, while Johnson was 5-for-6 for 39 yards.
Running backs C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne also looked crisp as the Tigers ran for 353 yards. Fuller had two touchdowns, including a 26-yard touchdown, while Feaster had a 47-yard touchdown run. Etienne led the Tigers in rushing with 81 yards, including a 54-yard run. He also scored on a 4-yard run, while Adam Choice scored on a three-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
But the afternoon really belonged to Bryant.
After leading Clemson to a touchdown on the opening drive, Bryant threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Cain on the Tigers’ second possession and then ran 8 yards for a score with 1:13 showing on the clock before halftime. That gave Clemson a 28-3 lead at the time.
On the opening possession, Fuller broke through the line for his 26-yard touchdown run to cap a 4-play, 65-yard drive that took just 1:18 off the clock. The drive was highlighted by a 26-yard pass from Bryant to tight end Milan Richard, which was sprung by a good crack-back block from Hunter Renfrow.
The Tigers took a 14-0 lead the next time they got the ball. On second-down-and-one from the Clemson 39, Bryant hit Deon Cain in stride for an easy 61-yard touchdown pass. Just four minutes and 23 seconds into the 2017 season, Clemson had 135 yards in six plays and two touchdowns.
When they got the ball a third time, the Tigers continued to pour it on. This time Choice got into the act as he rumbled three yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 3:18 to play in the first quarter.
Kent State added a 37-yard field goal by Shane Hayes in the second quarter, before Bryant sprinted eight yards into the right side of the end zone for the game’s fourth touchdown and its 28-3 lead.
Bryant finished the first half with 178 yards passing on 14 of 20 passing, one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for 77 yards on seven carries including a Woodrow Dantzler like 47-yard run to the Kent State nine that set up his own 8-yard score moments later.