Bryant could pro­duce his own le­gacy at Clem­son

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NEWS - BY DAVID PASCHALL STAFF WRITER

Clem­son quar­ter­back Kelly Bryant has been viewed as a one-year bridge be­tween two-time Heis­man Tro­phy fi­nal­ist De­shaun Wat­son and Trevor Lawrence of Cartersville, Ga., the top national signee in the 2018 class.

Yet Bryant, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound ju­nior from Cal­houn Falls, S.C., has guided coach Dabo Swin­ney’s Tigers to a No. 1 rank­ing and a third con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. Clem­son is com­ing off a re­sound­ing 38-3 vic­tory over Mi­ami in the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game on Dec. 2 — when Bryant com­pleted 23 of 29 passes for 252 yards and a touch­down and also had an 11-yard rush­ing score — and will face No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Mon­day night.

Not too shabby for a per­ceived tem­po­rary fix.

“We had a lot of crit­ics and naysay­ers be­fore the sea­son who said we had lost a lot,” Bryant said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence this past week in New Or­leans. “I also heard that I wasn’t a quar­ter­back and that I couldn’t play here and that I was ei­ther go­ing to trans­fer or change po­si­tions. We all just em­braced it and went to work.”

Bryant en­tered this sea­son hav­ing played in 12 ca­reer games for the Tigers. Most of his stats had been com­piled on the ground, as his 23 car­ries for 156 yards for last sea­son’s national cham­pi­ons re­sulted in a team-high 6.8-yard av­er­age.

This sea­son, Bryant has com­pleted 244 of 362 passes (67.4 per­cent) for 2,678 yards with 13 touch­downs and six in­ter­cep­tions, while also rush­ing 173 times for 646 yards (3.7) and 11 scores.

“First of all, he’s a big man,” out­go­ing Alabama de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jeremy Pruitt said. “He can run. He’s a great ath­lete, and he un­der­stands their of­fense. He’s been in their system. He’s been be­hind De­shaun Wat­son, so I’m sure he’s learned a lot.

“These guys do a good job of spread­ing the ball around. They stretch you with their RPO (run-pass op­tion) game, and when he’s run­ning the ball, it’s a lot like the wild­cat, be­cause there are a lot of lead block­ers.”

Pruitt also said Bryant can “make all the throws,” adding an­other con­trast­ing view to those who felt that tran­si­tion­ing from Wat­son to a for­mer three-star prospect could be prob­lem­atic.

“I re­ally hadn’t played much for a lot of peo­ple to tell me to switch po­si­tions,” Bryant said. “I was like, ‘Just give me a chance.’ I tried not to pay at­ten­tion to all that stuff, but it was like a slap in the face.”

The Tigers have scored at least 24 points in ev­ery game this sea­son with the ex­cep­tion of the vic­to­ri­ous 14-6 de­fen­sive slugfest against Auburn on Sept. 9, and Bryant’s value was most no­table when he wasn’t play­ing mid­way through the year.

Af­ter leav­ing a 28-14 win over Wake For­est on Oct. 7 with an an­kle in­jury in the third quar­ter, Bryant sus­tained a con­cus­sion six days later at Syra­cuse late in the first half. The Tigers suf­fered their only de­feat of the sea­son, 27-24, but had an open date the fol­low­ing weekend be­fore fac­ing Ge­or­gia Tech on Oct. 28.

Bryant threw a 28-yard touch­down pass to Deon Cain within the first two min­utes of a 24-10 down­ing of the Yel­low Jack­ets, which be­came the first of the six straight wins Clem­son has car­ried to New Or­leans.

“Af­ter that game, we came to­gether and said we didn’t want the loss to de­fine us,” Bryant said. “Coach Swin­ney told us we still had our goals in front of us.”

On Mon­day night, Bryant will face Crim­son Tide de­fend­ers he said are “al­ways in the right place” and “don’t do any­thing to hurt them­selves.” He has talked fre­quently this sea­son with Wat­son — whose stand­out rookie year with the NFL’s Hous­ton Tex­ans was cut short by in­jury — and that in­cludes re­cently.

The 6-2, 221-pound Wat­son had big out­ings in the past two national cham­pi­onship games against Alabama, lead­ing the Tigers to a com­bined 1,061 yards and 75 points, but this will be Bryant’s stage, and he plans to sa­vor it.

“This sea­son has been sur­real,” he said. “It’s been a bless­ing. It’s been a joy to be a part of. I’m just go­ing to soak it up and em­brace it, be­cause you never know when you’re go­ing to get an­other op­por­tu­nity.”

Sa­ban’s suc­ces­sor?

Even though Swin­ney and Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban have new con­tracts that run through 2024, there is still the ques­tion of whether Swin­ney would head back to Tuscaloosa if the 66-yearold Sa­ban re­tired. Swin­ney played re­ceiver for the Crim­son Tide from 1989 to 1992, be­gin­ning his ca­reer as a walk-on and end­ing it with a national cham­pi­onship.

Will Swin­ney, Dabo’s son and a fresh­man re­ceiver for the Tigers, does not sub­scribe to that pos­si­bil­ity.

“I wouldn’t say I nec­es­sar­ily see that hap­pen­ing,” the younger Swin­ney said Satur­day in a news con­fer­ence. “We love it at Clem­son, and he’s in­vested. Alabama al­ready has so many cham­pi­onships and stuff.

“We’re build­ing some­thing re­ally spe­cial here, and my dad helped cre­ate that and has a bunch of good staff around him. He loves it here.”

That’s a wrap

Alabama con­ducted its fi­nal Sugar Bowl prac­tice Satur­day af­ter­noon, work­ing out in hel­mets and shorts in the Su­per­dome. The Crim­son Tide will hold a walk­through to­day, with Sa­ban and Swin­ney sched­uled to have a fi­nal news con­fer­ence.

Con­tact David Paschall at dpaschall@times­free or 423-757-6524.


Clem­son ju­nior quar­ter­back Kelly Bryant dives into the end zone against North Carolina State for one of his 11 rush­ing touch­downs this sea­son. Bryant and the No. 1 Tigers face No. 4 Alabama on Mon­day night in the Sugar Bowl national semi­fi­nal.

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