The reason Zerrick Cooper played instead of Hunter Johnson in No. 8 Clemson’s loss to Syracuse on Friday night was due to the recommendation of quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in a teleconference call with the media on Monday that he felt Cooper gave the Tigers the best chance to win after starter Kelly Bryant went out of the game with a concussion just before halftime.
“First of all, I trust my coaches,” Swinney said. “Streeter has done a great job and he has a great track record with these guys. He has a great feel.”
After Johnson went 5-for-5 with a 13-yard touchdown pass following Bryant’s ankle injury against Wake Forest the week before, a lot of fans and some in the media were surprised to see Cooper come out to start the second half against Syracuse and play the rest of the game. Many felt Cooper was not prepared and did not look as comfortable when he came in for Bryant in the Wake Forest game.
“(Cooper) is not that far ahead, but Streeter just felt like in that situation, with a lot of the pressure and that stuff, that Zerrick gave us the best chance to win the game,” Swinney said. “He actually did some really good things. I think he took us down (the field) in three out of the first four drives, and we scored two (times) and the other we missed a field goal.”
Cooper finished the game 10-of-14 for 88 yards. Swinney also pointed to the fact the Tigers ran just 57 plays on offense, the lowest total in a game for a Clemson offense since its last road loss way back in November of 2014 against Georgia Tech.
“It’s not that much separation,” Swinney said. “We did not have a lot of plays. We only had 57 snaps. I wish we had an opportunity to get Hunter in there. If we get another opportunity down the road, hopefully we will.”
Kelly Bryant’s status. Swinney said Bryant (concussion and ankle) was doing better on Monday and the training staff was encouraged with him as he continues to go through concussion protocol procedures this week.
Swinney said Bryant will miss Monday’s practice, but he is hopeful by Wednesday he’ll be out there moving around.
“But we’re going to be really cautious with him… Hopefully, by Wednesday, we’ll have a better feel for what he’ll be able to do practice wise,” Swinney said.
Etienne okay. Clemson running back Travis Etienne nicked his hamstring while running for his 52-yard touchdown last Friday. But Swinney said it is nothing serious and it was just a minor tweak.
“I think he’s OK,” Swinney said. “He’s going to be alright. He kind of tweaked it on the long run, and that’s why we didn’t have him on kickoff return after that.”
Other injury notes. Swinney said cornerback A.J. Terrell got hurt as well in Friday’s game. Swinney didn’t specify what the injury is, but said he thinks Terrell worked out Monday morning and hopes he will be okay as the week progresses.
Swinney also reported cornerback Mark fields was a little banged up and probably will be a little bit limited in practice on Monday. The arch area in his foot is sore, Swinney said.
Swinney will open competition back up at kicker. After going 2-for-6 on field goals since taking over for the injured Greg Huegel at placekicker, Alex Spence’s opportunity seems to be over for the time being.
Spence missed kicks of 35 and 39 yards in the Syracuse loss, which obviously came back to haunt the Tigers, along with several other things.
“I think everything is open,” Swinney said. “When you lose a ball game, you look at everything. Now he’s 2-for-6, so he’s had plenty of opportunities. It’s not like we’re kicking 50-yarders. Nobody is more disappointed than him. Physically, he can do it … it just hasn’t quite transitioned for him right now to the game-field.
“But after six opportunities, being 2-for-6, that’s just not where we need to be. So absolutely, we’re going to look at all options.”
That means walk-on and former nearby Daniel High School product, Christian Groomes, could get the opportunity to win the job during the Tigers’ bye week.
Georgia Tech kickoff time announced: The ACC announced on Monday, Clemson’s home game against Georgia Tech in Death Valley on Oct. 28, will be an 8 p.m., kick and will be televised on either ABC or ESPN2.