Kelly Bryant heard all of the talk this offseason of how Clemson’s offense would take a big step back without Deshaun Watson at quarterback. He just didn’t buy into it.
Bryant led Clemson to its ninth win of the season, as well as its third consecutive ACC Atlantic title, this past Saturday against Florida State as Clemson topped the Seminoles 31-14.
Clemson has won every game Bryant has started and finished and has the same 9-1 record that it did at this point last year when the Tigers won the national title.
“Going into the season, not many people picked us to be in this position. But we knew what we had in the offensive room and also as a team with the type of guys we had coming back to school here,” Bryant said. “We were just ready to step up into our role and embrace it as well.”
Clemson is averaging nearly 33 points per game, down about six points from last season, and its passing game has fallen off some from last year as well.
But the Tigers are averaging 221 rushing yards per game, which is about 50 more than they did in 2016. Bryant has been a big part of that success as he has 608 rushing yards and a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns.
“People just said I had big shoes I have to fill … I always would say, ‘I wear a size 16 so I fill big shoes every day,’ ” Bryant said. “Stuff like that, ‘Can he do it?’ Now, looking back, we’re right where we want to be as a team, all our goals are ahead of us. We’re just going to continue to work and push.”
Part of what Clemson is working to improve down the stretch is its passing game.
The Tigers have struggled to connect on deep balls this season with only 24 pass plays of 20 or more yards, which is tied for No. 101 nationally.
Clemson finished with 73 pass plays of 20 or more yards last season, which ranked third.
“We know we can do it because we’ve done it this year. We’ve won some big games early in the year throwing and catching against some very talented secondaries,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “We do it every day in practice. But unfortunately, the last few games we haven’t connected on as many plays down the field as we want to.”
All of the blame isn’t on Bryant, though.
Sometimes, his throws have been inaccurate and sometimes, he has not pulled the trigger when he has had an open receiver. But other times, receivers have been in the wrong place or been unable to haul in the pass.
Clemson receiver Deon Cain dropped what would have been an easy long touchdown Saturday against FSU.
“It’s not all on the quarterback. We’ve gone back and studied those, and really there’s plenty of blame to go around,” Scott said. “If we make that play on the conversion ball late in the game last week, then we’re in a lot better situation there.”
Still, Bryant knows he needs to play better.
But he is tuning out negative comments on his passing ability, just as he did when people doubted him after being named the starter.
“Just try not to listen to people. It’s going to connect,” Bryant said. “Continue to have that confidence that it’s going to connect and it’s going to be there, we’re going to make those plays where we may be missing some throws that I know I can make.”