COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Kelly Bryant looked like a different player in the second half of second-ranked Clemson’s game at Texas A&M on Saturday night.
After missing on several plays in the first two quarters, the senior quarterback showed his mettle and toughness after halftime as he bounced back and made several big plays to help the Tigers to a critical 28-26 road win over the Aggies at Kyle Field.
Bryant went 7-of-9 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown in the second half, after throwing for just 81 yards, making a critical turnover and being sacked twice before the break.
“Just settling in,” Bryant said of what was the difference for him after halftime. “Just getting in a rhythm was the biggest thing. I wasn’t really in a rhythm early on. So, just getting in a rhythm, taking it one play at a time, just playing fast and executing.”
Bryant and the Tigers missed a chance to take a commanding lead in the waning moments of the first half, already up by a score of 14-3. Following a blocked field goal by Dexter Lawrence, Clemson drove 53 yards to the Texas A&M 1-yard line.
However, on fourth-and-goal, Bryant fumbled the snap and the ball was recovered by the Aggies.
“Right there on the goal line, everything’s lined up right, we’ve got a good play call and we didn’t execute,” Bryant said.
Though things weren’t going his way, Bryant stayed poised and turned in a resilient second-half performance. The Calhoun Falls, S.C., native led Clemson on back-to-back touchdown drives in the third quarter to help give the Tigers a 28-13 lead heading into the fourth.
Bryant kickstarted the two drives with a 50-yard pass to Tee Higgins and a 40-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow, respectively, and finished off the first of those drives with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Diondre Overton.
“After (the fumble), I thought he really kind of settled in and played well,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He made some really big-time throws, huge runs, took care of the ball, managed the game, and that’s what we needed him to do in critical situations. He showed a lot of poise.”
Bryant finished 12-of-17 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown, and also rushed for 54 yards and had a 1-yard rushing score in the first half.
Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence played three straight series in the second quarter and six overall, completing 5-of-9 passes for 93 yards including a 64-yard touchdown to Higgins on his first pass attempt.
Despite sharing snaps with Lawrence, Bryant stayed locked in and delivered for the Tigers when it mattered most.
“I was just making sure I stayed engaged when I was on the sideline, making sure I was being encouraging,” Bryant said. “Trevor came in out of the gate and made a big play, got an offensive spark. So, I just made sure I was engaged, and I didn’t feel like that was the reason why I wasn’t in a rhythm. I just had to settle in.”
Bryant credited his mentality for helping him overcome his first-half struggles to lead Clemson to a huge victory on the road in a marquee early season matchup.
“Just mentally locked in, not letting anything get to me,” he said. “Just staying poised and keep playing and trying to be that leader. Whenever I’m not in the game, be on the sideline talking to my guys, just being encouraging and making plays when it’s there. Just doing my job. That’s the thing I’ve been doing the whole year.”
“One thing I learned from it is just stay poised, just settle in,” he added. “It’s something I say a lot, but when you actually go through an experience like that, it tells you a lot about yourself. So, just settling in and staying poised.”