CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) - Clemson’s Kelly Bryant understands leading the second-ranked Tigers to victory at Texas A&M with a big second-half performance won’t end his team’s two-quarterback system or satisfy those who doubt he’s the championship answer for the program.
He’s simply happy he did the job when his number was called.
“There were always questions brought up to me about my game,” said Bryant, a senior who shuffles in and out with freshman Trevor Lawrence . “People saying I can’t do this and I can’t do that. I just stayed the course and continued to grind.”
His grinding last weekend sparked Clemson’s sluggish offense and helped lead the Tigers (2-0) to a 28-26 victory. Bryant threw for 124 of his 205 yards and a touchdown after halftime.
It was a good performance, Bryant said, in a highly competitive situation to hold onto the starting job he won last fall.
Bryant succeeded Clemson’s national championship All-American Deshaun Watson at quarterback in 2017 and led the Tigers to a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference title and College Football Playoff.
A disheartening loss in the Sugar Bowl in Alabama, though, had many Clemson fans shifting from Bryant to their next five-star freshman passer in Trevor Lawrence.
Ever since Lawrence’s enrollment, Bryant has had to look over his shoulder - or out at the field from the sidelines when Lawrence has played in Clemson’s two-quarterback system.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Bryant has kept his poise and kept himself ready.
“I thought his leadership and toughness down the stretch were awesome,” Swinney said. “It was what we needed at that moment.”
What the Tigers need going forward will continue to be a series-by-series decision. Swinney and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott have both said Lawrence will continue to see action and will play against Georgia Southern (2-0) on Saturday - if the game is played.
The matchup was moved from midafternoon to 12 p.m. due to Hurricane Florence. There is a possibility the storm’s track could lead to the game being canceled.
But if they do play, Bryant doesn’t seem concerned about his role or the quarterback system.
He just smiles. Bryant has grown used to dealing with challenges throughout his Clemson career.
Consider it the classic middle child syndrome . Bryant is caught between the accomplished older brother in Watson and the younger brother with amazing promise in Lawrence, who is more in Watson’s mold than Bryant’s.
Lawrence is the classic drop back passer with a strong arm to make almost every throw you can think of. He’s 6-foot-6 who, by the way, just happened to break Georgia high school records for passing yards and touchdowns previously held by Watson.
Bryant, a solid 6-3, 225 pounds, is built to run over defenders and was the team’s second leading rusher a year ago. It’s a style Clemson used to dominate the ACC in the 1980s, but one fans left behind amid Watson’s dazzling display of downfield passes from 2014 to 2016.
It’s no wonder Bryant gets overlooked in the rush to elevate Lawrence.
He was asked this summer how he’s maintained his composure always hearing about “Deshaun, Deshaun, Deshaun” last year and “Trevor, Trevor, Trevor,” this season.
“I just focus on Kelly, Kelly, Kelly. That is it,” he said.
It’s why Bryant succeeds, said Elliott, Clemson’s main play caller.
“He’s found a way not to let what is going on outside around him infiltrate his mind,” Elliott said. “He stays focused and is just focused on himself.”
Bryant doesn’t sulk when he comes out of games, knowing he’s got to stay ready when he’s asked back in. Many wondered if Lawrence had moved ahead when he finished up the second quarter, then was kept in by Swinney to start the third.
Bryant expected his time to come. He keeps his mind fresh with breathing exercises on the sidelines he says calm him down so when he returns to the field, Bryant can play his best.
“You know it is a competition at the position,” Bryant said. “I just try not to let it overwhelm me.”
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