All spring Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has said Kelly Bryant was his starting quarterback. However, his tone changed a little bit following Saturday’s Orange & White Spring Game at Death Valley.
Bryant struggled as the Orange beat the White, 28-17, in front of an estimated crowd of 55,000 fans. The senior, who led the Tigers to a third straight College Football Playoff last year, was just 8-for-15 in the game for 35 yards and no touchdowns.
“This is just another scrimmage we have to evaluate,” Swinney said after he was asked if Bryant was still the No. 1 quarterback going into fall camp. “He missed two big throws today that he has made all spring.”
While Bryant was off target, freshman Trevor Lawrence was on target for the most part. He completed 11-of-16 passes for 122 yards, including a well-thrown ball to wide receiver Tee Higgins for a 50-yard touchdown pass on his second throw of the game.
Lawrence also had two other long passes to Higgins and freshman tight end Braden Galloway, but they were negated after officials ruled him down. Quarterbacks could not be tackled in the game and were rule down by just a simple touch.
Sophomore Hunter Johnson also played well in the scrimmage. He threw for 85 yards, including an 18-yard pass to Higgins for a touchdown, while also running three yards for another score. He led the Tigers to the most touchdown drives in the game of any of the four quarterbacks.
Chase Brice led all quarterbacks with 231 yards, but he was also intercepted three times, including an 84-yard Trayvon Mullen return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“We will sit down and have exit interviews with all of those guys,” Swinney said. “But regardless of what any post spring depth chart says, it just really does not matter. We don’t play until September…
“There is still work to be done and that is what we tell these guys at every position.”
Swinney and co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said they were overall pleased with the spring Bryant has had. They were disappointed with how things looked in the Orange & White Game because there were a couple of big plays the veteran quarterback did not take advantage of.
Bryant missed Milan Richard on a big pass down the far sideline in the first quarter that would have gone for a big gain and then later missed Hunter Renfrow wide open on what could have been a possible big gain or a touchdown.
“You are disappointed because those are a couple of big plays you did not take advantage of, but he has made a lot of big plays,” Swinney said. “This kid has proven he can win at a high level for us. That is number one for us, but like I have said, last year has nothing to do with this year. You have to prove it all over again.”
All four quarterbacks have had their good days and bad days this spring, and each has looked better than the other at certain times. In other words, it is a very competitive situation at the quarterback position.
Swinney said Bryant is still the No. 1 quarterback if they played their first game today, but he said that was an easier statement to make coming into the spring.
“That was an easy statement to say because you have to start somewhere,” he said. “Clelin (Ferrell) was clearly number one, too. But we have some young guys out there that have closed the gap on Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, so that is just the nature of it because they are better on day fifteen than they were on day one. That is no different than any position.
“Kelly has had a great spring, but those guys behind him have had a great spring as well.”