No. 5 Clemson rolls in QB Bryant’s starting debut
CLEMSON, S.C. — Kelly Bryant, who is faced with the unenviable task of replacing Deshaun Watson as Clemson’s quarterback, did a fairly good impersonation of the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Saturday afternoon.
Bryant passed for 236 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 77 yards and another score in the first start of his career, powering No. 5 Clemson to a 56-3 rout of Kent State in the season opener for both teams.
The Atlantic Coast Conference and defending national champions dominated from the outset, scoring on their first three possessions to set the tone for the day in front of 80,121 at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.
“I loved the way we set the tempo,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I can’t remember a cleaner performance in an opening game. We played 91 guys and we continued to play well throughout the game. It was great to see guys excited for their teammates.”
While Clemson’s offense wasted little time in getting untracked, the Tigers’ defense also appeared to be in midseason form, limiting the Golden Flashes of the Mid-American Conference to 120 total yards, including one yard passing.
“Our defense settled in and disrupted everything up front — it was a dominant performance,” Swinney said. “It was something we can build from, and we all know that the margin for error is a lot lower when we roll into this next one against Auburn.”
Clemson hosts Auburn on Saturday, then travels to ACC rival Louisville on Sept. 16.
But Saturday was all about winning the opener, and the Tigers did that in impressive fashion. The Tigers outgained Kent State 326-54 in the first half to build a 28-3 lead.
Junior running back C.J. Fuller capped a four-play, 65-yard drive with a 26-yard run up the middle for Clemson’s first touchdown of the season. It took the Tigers just two plays to score on their ensuing possession as Bryant connected with wide receiver Deon Cain for a 61-yard touchdown.
Adam Choice added a 3-yard scoring run with 3:18 left in the first quarter to finish a 10-play, 54-yard drive and provide a 21-0 lead.
Kent State picked up its initial first down on a 7-yard run by quarterback Nick Holley with 1:48 left in the first quarter, and the Golden Flashes proceeded to march 55 yards to the Clemson 20-yard line before settling for a 37-yard field goal by Shane Hynes on the fifth play of the second quarter.
But that would be about the only threat the Golden Flashes could muster on a day when Clemson allowed its second- and third-team players to play extensively. Nine players had at least one rushing attempt for the Tigers and 15 players caught at least one pass.
“Clemson is a tremendous team,” said Kent State interim head coach Don Treadwell, who is filling in for coach Paul Haynes, who is on medical leave but expected to return in a couple of weeks. “The good news for us is you learn so much more about your team in a real game versus as you go through the weeks of preseason.”
Kent State learned that it has some improving to do, particularly in the passing game. The Golden Flashes were trying to keep Clemson’s potent offense off the field, but still attempted only five passes, completing one for a net 1-yard gain through the air.
“Ball control was certainly a thought going into the game,” Treadwell said. “You have a dynamic, explosive offense on the other side, and we wanted to utilize the clock as much as we could in our favor today.”
The Golden Flashes won the time of possession battle, but that was about all. Clemson had 34 first downs to five for Kent State and got touchdowns from seven different players. The offense was balanced for Clemson — 353 yards rushing and 312 through the air.
Bryant, meanwhile, shined in his debut, and his 313 yards of total offense were the most in Clemson history by a quarterback making his first start.
“That’s what I was hoping to see from Bryant,” Swinney said. “I’ve seen it in practice and it was great to see him take to game day. He was poised and confident and when he gets loose, he can run away from you.”
NOTES: Clemson junior TE Milan Richard had two receptions for 70 yards, including a 44-yard gain. ...Clemson’s leading rusher was freshman RB Travis Etienne, who had 81 yards on just eight carries. ...Clemson sophomore RB Tavien Feaster added 69 yards on six carries, including a 47-yard touchdown. ...Kent State LB Matt Bahr led all defenders with nine tackles, eight of which came in the first half. ...Kent State P Derek Adams averaged 46.5 yards on 11 punts and had four punts of 50 yards or more, including a 66-yarder. ... QB Nick Holley, who led the Golden Flashes with 920 yards rushing last season, was the team’s leading rusher again Saturday with 53 yards on 10 attempts.