Monday Morning Quarterback
If there was anyone in Clemson’s quarterback room back in January who could have quit on Clemson it was Chase Brice. Fortunately for Clemson, he did not.
When Trevor Lawrence—the nation’s No. 1 recruit from the Class of 2018—enrolled at Clemson last January, he became the sixth scholarship quarterback on the roster. However, it did not take long for the numbers to start to dwindle.
First, Zerrick Cooper, the Tigers’ second-team quarterback in 2017 announced his intentions to transfer shortly after Lawrence got on campus. Then Tucker Israel followed by announcing he was transferring as well.
After the first wave, there was Brice, still hanging in there. No one could blame Cooper or Israel for transferring and wanting to go somewhere else where they can play. It was obvious the competition was going to be a three-horse race between 2017 starter Kelly Bryant, the nation’s No. 1 ranked quarterback from the Class of 2017, Hunter Johnson and Lawrence.
Sure, Brice was there, but no one outside the walls of the Allen Reeves Football Complex in Clemson believed he was going to. If Brice wanted to transfer, no one would have blamed him.
In the spring, the competition to be Clemson’s starting quarterback was a tough battle between Bryant, Johnson and Lawrence. The true freshman made his move, like we all knew he would, and ended the 15 practices tied with Johnson as the co-No. 2.
Johnson read the tea leaves and in May decided he too was going to leave the Clemson program and try to play somewhere else. Again, no one could blame him.
As the Tigers headed into summer workouts, there was just three quarterbacks of the original six left – Bryant, Lawrence and that guy named Chase Brice. However, despite what head coach Dabo Swinney was saying, everyone outside of Clemson knew the competition to be the Tigers’ starting quarterback was between Bryant and Lawrence.
After summer workouts and what was a grueling competition in fall camp, Bryant had a slight edge on Lawrence. Swinney announced both quarterbacks would play, but Bryant would continue to start for the Tigers unless it became obvious to everyone that a change had occur.
On Sept. 22, at Atlanta’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, it became obvious. Everyone in attendance during Clemson’s 49-21 win over Georgia Tech, plus those watching on television, could see Lawrence had taken the next step in his progression and was indeed the better of the two quarterbacks.
Swinney announced last Monday that Lawrence had earned the right to be the starter, but Bryant was still going to play as well. However, Bryant had seen enough. The senior felt has if he was not being treated fairly and that it was a “slap in the face” he was demoted.
On Tuesday, through a text message to Swinney, Bryant announced he was quitting the team four games into the season and, thanks to a new NCAA rules, he planned to transfer to another school.
Again, no one could blame Bryant for wanting to transfer. Maybe he could have handled the situation better than he did, but you can’t blame him for wanting to play.
So, there were just two quarterbacks, of the original six, left at Clemson, and one of them was the guy probably everyone thought would have left way before Johnson or Bryant did. But luckily for Clemson, Brice stuck it out. If he hadn’t, the Tigers would most likely be 4-1 today and their national championship aspirations would be gone.
However, Brice did hang in there and his loyalty to Clemson paid of this past Saturday when Lawrence left the Syracuse game with a concussion late in the second quarter.
With 12:58 to play in the game, Brice led the Tigers’ to one of the program’s greatest comebacks in school history as he engineered two fourth-quarter touchdowns to erase a 10-point deficit to keep Clemson undefeated through five games.
First, during a 6-play, 75-yard drive, he completed back-to-back passes of 16 and 15 yards to freshman wide receiver Justin Ross to get things started before running back Travis Etienne finished off the drive with a 26-yard touchdown run.
Then came the 13-play, 94-yard drive that will forever be remembered by Clemson fans. Trailing, 23-20, with 6:06 to play in the game, the Tigers slowly started marching towards the Syracuse end zone. However, the drive started to stall at the Clemson 48.
With 2:50 left in the game, Brice was staring at a fourth down-and-six. This was the game. If the Tigers had any chance of winning, the redshirt freshman had to make a play.
Clemson is so glad Brice did not quit.
Brice made a difficult throw look easy as he found Tee Higgins for a 20-yard gain on the near sideline. Then, on the very next play, he kept the ball on a zone-read and darted for 17 yards to the Orange 15-yard line.
Four plays later, Etienne walked into the end zone from two yards out with 41 seconds left, and Clemson had an improbable, 27-23, victory.
When the dust in Death Valley had finally settled this past Saturday afternoon, everyone wearing Clemson Orange was thankful that the one guy who no one would have blamed for wanting to transfer back in January, did not quit on Clemson.