Overall, it was a good homecoming for second-ranked Clemson Saturday as it dominated Wake Forest in Death Valley, 28-14.
However, the win came at a cost. Quarterback Kelly Bryant apparently injured his ankle late in the third quarter after he ran the ball for eight yards to the Wake 1-yard line. Travis Etienne then carried the ball in for the Tigers’ third touchdown, but Bryant walked off the field with a noticeable limp. After being checked out in the injury tent, he did not return to the game.
Leading 21-0, the Tigers did not need Bryant as much, especially with the way the defense played much of the game, suffocating Wake Forest’s offense.
Backup quarterback Hunter Johnson, who came in after Zerrick Cooper missed on a wide open to Deon Cain that would have gone for six points, directed the Clemson offense on a 4-play, 32-yard scoring drive which ended with his first career touchdown pass to tight end Cannon Smith. It was also Smith’s first career touchdown.
Johnson’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Smith gave Clemson a 28-0 lead with 11:48 to play in the game.
Before the injury, Bryant was on his way to another 300-yard game for total offense as he threw for 200 yards on 21-of-29 passing and ran for 39 yards on 12 carries. One of his completions was a 28-yard pass to Cain on the opening drive of the game.
However, despite his solid play, Bryant did make two mistakes. He lost a fumble in the second quarter and then was intercepted in the third quarter.
The Tigers (6-0, 4-0 ACC) came out hitting on all cylinders to start the game, scoring touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, while the defense was suffocating the entire half.
But Clemson sputtered in the second quarter as Alex Spence hit the left upright on a 42-yard field goal attempt, and then Bryant fumbled on another potential scoring drive.
Clemson also had a holding call on Diondre Overton on the next possession that negated a Bryant first-down run, and then tight end D.J. Greenlee was called for a pass inference penalty on the next possession that cost the Tigers again on another potential scoring drive.
Clemson jumped out to a 7-0 lead on its first drive of the game thanks to Bryant’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Deon Cain. The drive covered 75 yards on seven plays and took 2:01 off the clock.
The Tigers went up tempo on their first drive and Bryant executed with efficiency for their first touchdown. He completed an 11-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow on the first play. The drive culminated in the 28-yard pass to Cain on a fade rout to give Clemson the 7-0 lead with 12:59 to play in the first quarter.
Clemson gained a 14-0 advantage on its second drive on a four-yard run from running back Adam Choice. The drive lasted 5:07, covering 76 yards on 12 plays.
The Tigers again showed urgency on their second drive putting together a balanced attack. Bryant completed a pair of passes on third down to extend the drive, including a 15-yard pass down the middle to Renfrow on third-and-eleven. An 18-yard pass in the middle of the field to Diondre Overton put Clemson at the five where Choice finished off the drive with a touchdown run.
The defense played well, too, but Wake got two fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the sellout crowd a little nervous at the end. However, the Demon Deacons had just 200 total yards and was 2-for-11 against the first-team defense through the first three quarters of the game.
Most of Wake’s yards and points did not come until the Tigers’ built their 28-0 lead. The Demon Deacons finished the game with just 336 total yards. Clemson finished the game with 453 yards.
Clemson will go back on the road next Friday as it visits Syracuse for a 7 p.m. nationally televised game.