When talking about his starting quarterback earlier this week, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott made a very good point about Kelly Bryant.
“There are a lot of people this year that would love to have his production out there,” Scott said.
Scott’s right. Bryant has been very productive in leading Clemson to a third straight ACC Atlantic Division title, while also having the Tigers ranked No. 2 in the latest College Football Playoff Committee rankings.
When Bryant has started and finished a game the Tigers are 9-0. They have won seven of those nine games by at least 14 points and have an average margin of victory of 23.5 points. Two of those victories were a 26-point win at Louisville and a 14-point win at Virginia Tech that was not even that close.
So far this season, Bryant has completed 181-of-277 passes (65.3 percent) for 1,924 yards and seven touchdowns. He has also rushed for 608 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He has thrown just five interceptions and fumbled twice.
However, Bryant could be better, especially if he and his wide receivers can start reconnecting on the deep ball. Earlier in the year, Bryant was finding Ray-Ray McCloud, Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow quite frequently, especially in wins over Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech.
But since the Virginia Tech game things have fallen off in the passing game. Some of it has been on Bryant and some of it has been on his receivers. Regardless, there is a confidence issue where the Clemson quarterback is afraid to let the ball go, and when he does, it’s getting dropped like Cain has done in each of the last two games.
Renfrow even dropped a deep pass going over the middle against Georgia Tech.
“It is going to get corrected,” Kelly said. “You just have to continue to have that confidence you are going to connect and it’s going to be there and we are going to make those plays we are missing and maybe we are missing some hard throws that I can make.
“I just can’t get frustrated because we are not connecting.”
Bryant is taking ownership, especially on some of the wide open passes he has been overthrowing the last couple of weeks. He says he and quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter have recognized that he is keeping his elbow too high at times. He also said he needs to follow through a little more on his throws.
“It is just small and mechanical things, but I’m going to have to continue to rep it,” he said.
One thing Bryant says he can do is stop aiming the ball at his targets.
“I don’t think I’m rushing anything,” he said. “It’s about just trying to throw the ball rather than trying to aim it and throw the perfect ball. It is just about getting back there and delivering a good ball to the receiver no matter what it looks like coming out of my hands.”
Against Florida State last week, there is one play Bryant wishes he could do again. Late in the third quarter, Cornell Powell had single coverage and had his man beat on a deep crossing pattern. All Bryant had to do was put the ball out in front of him and it would’ve been an easy six points. However, Bryant hesitated and then took a sack, pushing the Tigers out of field goal range.
“That is definitely one that we want him to take,” Scott said. “It is not the main read, but if you get one-on-one, you come off of your reads and you take that one-on-one shot. Looking back, as we go back and watch this one with Kelly that is one where we want him to let that thing rip.”
Bryant said he felt some pressure on the play and in hindsight he should have at least thrown the ball away.
“We were in field goal range right there and I really just put us in a bad situation,” the junior said. “We could have got points on that drive. I should have just thrown the ball away rather than taking the sack.”
Scott believes the plays the Tigers are just missing on are soon going to be made, and when it does the offense will take another step.
“The biggest thing is you learn every game,” Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator said. “Sometimes we catch ourselves. (Bryant) has won every game he has started and finished so sometimes we catch ourselves thinking he has been out there the last couple of years.
“You just use those opportunities to really coach those guys up. The deep ball shots are more visible. The biggest difference is those five or six deep balls. They can really make up the difference on where we want to be. It’s not something where we want Kelly to press about or anything like that.”
Scott said the coaches get in the tape room every week and they discover there is plenty of reasonability that goes around more than just Bryant. He feels the deep balls and the stuff everyone is worried about is going to come around, it just takes time.
“Overall, he is doing a great job,” Scott said. “Yes, we want him to feel comfortable to let those balls rip and to understand when those times are. When you get those one-on-one matches, he can go ahead and let that go.
“Like I said before, he is only going to get better and better and I think for us that is exciting.”