The mood at Clemson is a little bit different this year as the top-ranked Tigers prepare for Syracuse on Saturday than it was last year at this time.
At last year’s final media session before the game, a throng of writers and television reporters, both locally and nationally, were on hand as Swinney addressed the departure of quarterback Kelly Bryant from the team. Bryant had left the team two days before, a day after Swinney told him Trevor Lawrence was going to be the starter for the Syracuse game.
Bryant commented in The Greenville News earlier that day that he had not been given a fair shake and it was like “a slap in the face” to him.
A year later, Swinney could only laugh when it was pointed out to him that only seven members of the media were in attendance on Wednesday.
“We love drama, don’t we,” Swinney said while laughing. “We love drama. Drama sells. It is just an old boring working man’s Wednesday’s today. Nothing exciting, except a fun two-minute drill.”
Swinney later when on to say the moral of his football team was good last year leading up to the Syracuse game, but they were just dealing with drama.
“Nobody likes that … football is a game of routine and structure,” he said. “Nobody likes to have to deal with stuff like that. Our team handled it well. We had a good week of practice.
“Our quarterback just got hurt. That kind of derailed us a little bit. I said the other day if we can just get our quarterback to play four quarters we’re ahead of the game, and not turning over three times, then we will have a much better chance to be successful in the game as opposed to have to overcome a bunch of stuff.”
Lawrence was knocked out in the second quarter of last year’s game, which meant Chase Brice, who started the week as the third string quarterback before Bryant left the team, had to come in and play. Brice led the Tigers from 10-points down in the fourth quarter with two long touchdown drives, including a 94-yard game-winning drive.
On that drive, Brice converted a 20-yard pass to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-six from the Clemson 48-yard line to keep it alive. He then ran 17 yards around the right side on the next play and a couple of plays later Travis Etienne walked in untouched for the winning touchdown with 41 seconds to play.
“We had to overcome a lot last year,” Swinney said. “The good news is we were good enough to do it. We were good enough to run the ball and Chase was good enough to come in and win the game for us in the fourth quarter when we needed it. Our defense was good enough to get the stops and get the ball back.
“The year before, we were not good enough.”
The Tigers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) also lost their starting quarterback at Syracuse in 2017. Bryant, who was already hobbled with an ankle injury, went down with a concussion in the second quarter and did not return. Syracuse ended up beating the Tigers, 27-24. It’s the last time they lost an ACC game.
“We weren’t ready with our backups and we did not play well on defense,” Swinney said. “And they just flat out outplayed us. It is as simple as that. They outplayed us on both sides of the ball, and we got beat.
“So, our focus is to just play well and take care of the ball and play a complete game … protect our quarterback. That is it.”
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