On Wednesday, Chase Brice went from being Clemson’s third-string quarterback to being Trevor Lawrence’s backup when Kelly Bryant decided to transfer after Lawrence was named the new starter on Monday.
Then, on Saturday, Brice went from being the backup to being thrust into the fire after Lawrence was injured during Clemson’s game against Syracuse.
“I prepare like the starter. I think you have to, and that’s what we talk about,” Brice said. “Being a backup, it’s tough, and I didn’t get that role until this week. So, I really had to change what I do and really hone in on film and know what’s going on. But when he went down, I didn’t really think. I just grabbed my helmet and told the guys that we’re going to be fine and nothing’s going to change.”
Brice and the second-ranked Tigers indeed ended up being fine, as they survived an upset bid and improved to 5-0 (2-0 ACC) with a thrilling 27-23, come-from-behind victory over Syracuse (4-1, 1-1) at Death Valley.
Lawrence exited the game in the final minutes of the first half after he took a hit near the sideline from Syracuse safety Evan Foster. Lawrence did not return to the game and was later diagnosed with a concussion.
When the true freshman was forced out of the action, the redshirt freshman Brice was ready to step in.
“I knew in every game it’s a possibility that somebody gets hurt. So, I was prepared,” he said. “When I went in, everybody just kind of rallied around me. It’s amazing what you can do when people come up to you and say they believe in you. I just tried to believe in myself that I could lead the team down, score some points and win. So, they rallied around me and kept encouraging me, and the confidence continued with the fans and us making plays.”
No play was bigger than the one Brice made with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on Clemson’s eventual game-winning touchdown drive.
With Clemson trailing 23-20 and the game on the line, Brice stepped up when his team needed him most — on fourth-and-6 from Clemson’s 48-yard line, Brice dropped back to pass and tossed a beautiful throw to sophomore wide receiver Tee Higgins between two defenders for a 20-yard completion that kept the Tigers’ drive and hopes of winning alive.
“I vaguely remember it, to be honest. I just saw him open,” Brice said of his critical throw. “When you’ve got a guy like Tee Higgins to get the ball to, it makes your life a lot easier.”
After moving the chains with the clutch completion, Brice scampered 17 yards for another first down on the next play. Four plays later, Travis Etienne gave Clemson the lead for good with his third rushing touchdown of the game, a 2-yard burst that put Clemson up 27-23 with 41 seconds left.
The touchdown capped a 13-play, 94-yard drive during which the Tigers rushed for 74 yards.
“We were gashing them running the ball and they couldn’t stop us,” Brice said. “They knew we were running it and then still couldn’t stop us, so that’s just a credit to my O-line and their grit and determination to get yards, and them trusting me to make some plays. … So, we just drove down and ran it down their throat and made a couple plays.”
After Lawrence went down late in the second quarter, Brice got off to a shaky start in the second half — he was sacked to end Clemson’s opening possession of the third quarter and then threw an interception on the next drive.
However, with Clemson trailing 16-7, Brice bounced back to guide Clemson on four scoring drives while helping the Tigers to victory. He finished 7-of-13 passing for 83 yards.
“I tried to act like it was practice,” he said. “I know that sounds silly, but really just going back to the basics and basic reads and going back to what you know. I didn’t try to look at the clock. The whole second half, we didn’t act like we were losing, which I really liked. It was just a lot of confidence off that.”
The last time Brice played meaningful snaps prior to Saturday’s game was his senior year of high school, when the former Grayson High School (Loganville, Ga.) standout led his team on a 95-yard scoring drive to win the state championship.
The former four-star prospect proved again Saturday that he can be counted on when his number is called.
“I just got thrown into a situation where I needed to produce, and I was prepared for it,” he said. “They were preparing me and Trevor. We were watching a lot of film and just talking with each other about things. So, I just stepped up and was there for the team.”