A look back at what we learned from Clemson’s 28-26 victory at Texas A&M before the Tigers face Georgia Southern this weekend:
Kelly Bryant will remain Clemson’s starting QB
There was some speculation leading into Saturday’s game that Trevor Lawrence would outplay Kelly Bryant and would be the Tigers’ starting quarterback moving forward. When Lawrence’s first pass of the game was a 64-yard strike to Tee Higgins for a touchdown the hype only continued to build. But when the Tigers needed big plays in the second half, it was Bryant who got the job done. After Lawrence started the second half and went three-and-out in two series, Bryant was inserted back into the game and led the Tigers on a pair of touchdown drives. He played the rest of the way and led the Tigers in passing and rushing while accounting for 259 total yards and two touchdowns.
“He was just locked in the whole game,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “He made some really big time throws, huge runs. He took care of the ball, managed the game, and that’s what we needed him to do in some critical situations. He showed a lot of poise. It was good to see.”
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Tee Higgins is coming into his own
The sophomore was a breakout candidate for 2018, particularly after putting on a show in Clemson’s spring game. That success carried over into the regular season Saturday night as Higgins hauled in three passes for 123 yards and a score. His first catch came when Lawrence threw up a 50-50 ball that Higgins snatched out of the air and away from a defender. He then spun away from a second defender and raced into the end zone to give the Tigers a 14-3 lead. Higgins added a 9-yard reception in the second quarter before hauling in a 50-yard pass to set up a touchdown in the third.
“Tee’s a handful. He’s a guy now that, as a sophomore, is kind of coming into his own with confidence,” Swinney said. “Last year, he was weak and just learned how to play at this level. So he’s just way better.”
Clemson’s secondary has a ways to go
Texas A&M had receivers running open throughout the second half as quarterback Kellen Mond passed for 333 yards and three touchdowns over the final two quarters. The Tigers rotated safeties with K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse getting the start and Denzel Johnson and Nolan Turner also receiving playing time. Johnson and Muse in particular subbed in and out of the game regularly as defensive coordinator Brent Venables searched for answers on the back end of his defense. Cornerbacks Mark Field, A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen also had their share of struggles.
“Kellen made some plays,” Swinney said. “We got in a couple of bad calls that I thought they did a good job of exploiting. They had a heck of a plan … We played a lot of plays on defense … We did have some busted coverages, though.”
Clemson’s defensive front is a nightmare to face off against
The Tigers owned the line of scrimmage in the first half as Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence were a big reason why the Aggies managed only three points in the opening two quarters. The front four did not have as big of an impact in the second half, but Clemson still finished with 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. Ferrell had three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks, while Bryant had two tackles for loss and Wilkins had a tackle for loss. Ferrell added three quarterback hurries, while Lawrence had two.
The multi-QB system will continue
While Bryant played the majority of the second half, Trevor Lawrence also proved that he deserves playing time as well. Lawrence did not appear to be rattled by the tough road environment, throwing a 64-yard touchdown pass on his first play of the game. He finished 5-for-9 passing for 93 yards and a score. As the true freshman receives more opportunities, he should continue to show why he was the top prospect for the class of 2018. Lawrence appears to be on his way to being one of the stars of college football.
“I thought Trevor did a great job. This kid’s a true freshman, and he walked right out there like it ain’t nothing … They gave us a one-on-one, he put it up there. Ole Tee made a great play, and strike up the band … He’ll get so much better from that,” Swinney said. “As long as they play well, we want to continue to get Trevor in the game. He’s a special talent. Y’all have seen that. And he’s just going to get better.”