No one on the Clemson sideline was surprised when Chase Brice found Tee Higgins 20 yards down field near the sideline to convert on a huge fourth-and-six play in the fourth quarter. They had seen Brice make those plays in practice countless times.
“That was a big boy throw,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “That was tremendous, and he put it right where it needed to be.”
However, what Brice did on the next play, totally stunned the Clemson coaches.
On first down from the Syracuse 32-yard line, Brice pulled the ball from Travis Etienne on what looked like a zone-read and rumbled 17 yards to the Orange 15-yard line. To the 80,122 fans in Memorial Stadium, it looked like a great play by the redshirt freshman quarterback as it set the Tigers up for Etienne’s game-winning touchdown moments later.
However, Brice improvised on the play. It was not a zone-read. It was supposed to be a handoff to Etienne, but when Brice saw the defensive end crash down on the play, he pulled the ball out and hit the right side of the Clemson line and raced 17 yards.
“We don’t pull it on that play,” Swinney said on his weekly call-in show Monday night. “That particular play is a protective run and is a give all the way, but that is just kind of who Chase is. He just kind of has that moxie to him.”
Brice was actually mad about the way Syracuse was disrespecting him as a runner and what he could do as a quarterback. He felt the Orange was kind of closing in and not respecting certain things.
Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins understood why the Syracuse defense was not worried about Brice’s running ability.
“Chase is probably the slowest quarterback that has ever been at Clemson during my time,” the All-American said laughing. “But, it was definitely just fun to see. He showed that competitiveness and that will to win, too, by pulling that ball on that run play.
“Now, it took about ten seconds for him to get his yards. It really felt like it took forever. I’m just watching it and I’m like, ‘No he didn’t!’ I’m like … Hey! He did his thing. It was just fun to watch for sure. Then he lowered his shoulder and he took a couple of guys down so that was definitely fun to see.”
While Wilkins and the defense were enjoying it, the Clemson coaches were asking themselves “what just happened?”
“Then 17 yards later, of course, I am going, ‘Get down! Get down!’” It was just amazing,” Swinney said. “Maybe at the end of the year, the best part for us, is maybe how we had to win it. The confidence and momentum our team will come out of that game with.
“Obviously, they have confidence in Trevor (Lawrence), they have seen him for four and a half games already and now also having confidence in Chase and now Chase has confidence in Chase. He is not just going in there and playing, but he can win. I’m just really excited about what I saw.”