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The Day After: Clemson Tigers versus Kent State

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Kelly Bryant shines in first game as a starter.

Kent State v Clemson Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images

Welcome back to a bit of after game review—a little Sunday/Monday Quarterbacking. This was obviously a dominant performance and really we are just being overly critical. A few quick thoughts on teams:

Auburn, despite a few hiccups from a QB playing his first game in over a year, looked really good. The defense looks just as good as it was last year, if not better. This next game could be the toughest game of the year for Clemson. The hamstring injury to Kerryon Johnson is something to watch. I thought Stidham looked like a complete QB.

Louisville was really shaky against Purdue. Not sure if this was first game kinks, but Jackson didn’t seem to have the same offensive weapons around him. Defense isn’t as good as last year with some missing parts.

Florida State looked really good to me, especially in the first half. The defense did its part and dumb special teams plays changed the complexion of the game. Francois got desperate late and threw some interceptions when FSU abandoned the run. If Francois is injured, however, it changes the entire season (out indefinitely with torn patella tendon—yikes, hate to hear that for him). Former backup JJ Cosentino is not good and if it isn’t Cosentino then you are using a true freshman QB Blackman or a walk-on. Jimbo has named Blackman the starter and he is 6’5 and 185 lbs. but barely knows the Noles complex offensive system.

Virginia Tech looked good. I’ve said this entire offseason that VaTech is going to be a trap game. The Hokies have an incredible road atmosphere and Fuente has his new QB Jackson ahead of schedule. I still want to see him make more plays in the pass game, but the defense will again be stout.

South Carolina shouldn’t have beaten NC State who out-gained them almost 2-1 in yardage. But they gave up a special teams TD and turned the ball over, so yeah. South Carolina looked so much better on defense with Skai Moore. TJ Brunson (someone I wish we had room for as a recruit) also looked good. The D-line is thin but held up better than I expected, especially Wonnum. Allen-Williams gave them some pass rush. The offense does have some skill guys, some of the lineman have improved, and Bentley is still average. They could make a bowl game because of how bad the SEC East looks but I am sticking with the belief that they win 5 games for now.

Also a quick reminder to not read too much into the SID released depth chart. It isn’t some document that the coaches are using for substitutions. Mullen was the starting boundary corner opposite Carter, for example.

The Good

Yes we start with the good because there was so much of it.

Huegel!! Balls deep into the endzone. Spiers punts went far.

The offensive line. The offensive line. The offensive line. I really looked for some bad and didn’t see much. Yes, it was Kent State, but I have seen the Clemson offensive line struggle with worse players. Kent State had a couple of stout interior lineman (#90 was a load), but our guys got some push up front and opened running lanes. I liked how our tackles played and I felt like we developed some more interior depth. Anchrum started over Pollard (I remember being extremely high on Anchrum during his recruitment) and shows that we have three legit starting tackles, which hasn’t been the case in a long time at Clemson.

Clemson is deep at wide receiver. Cain showed he can take the top off the defense. Overton flashed some nice strength. Powell scored. Amari Rodgers gives you a three deep at the two position. What a backside block by Renfrow! You see the talent Tee Higgins possesses (on the interception the defender was literally on Higgins back...). Higgins will only get better and will be a match-up nightmare along with Overton in the red zone. Overton was really blocking well on the perimeter.

I’ve long said not to give up on Kelly Bryant. I was on the Hunter train and thought we would see more of a rotating QB system heading into Fall Camp. But Bryant has always played well and shown his arm talent over the years in practice. I didn’t buy the idea that Tucker Isreal would overtake him or that Cooper would supplant him. Bryant gives you something elite with his feet, but struggled when the lights were brightest.

You couldn’t ask for more from Bryant in his debut. The Spring game got thrown in the trash when he hurt his finger. Here we saw Bryant’s ability to burn defenders (and his own RB) in the open field and connect on the deep ball. More of that please against Auburn. Bryant now will face some real competition and some adversity. He will need to prove he can make the right read and convert on third down. Glad the game against Auburn is at home.

Glad to see Milan Richard break a long catch and Chalk and Bell had a couple good receptions. Chalk gave a sweet juke in the open field.

Running backs all flashed. Feaster showed that elite burst and extra gear that makes him a special player—he just needs to consistently hit the hole with that same authority. Fuller had some nice runs (I’d still like to see him break a few more tackles) and Choice was fine, good interior running, although still not back to the level he once was.

Etienne showed why he is going to be special. He made those great runs behind a patchwork O-line of third and fourth string guys. He finds a hole and is super elusive and quick. He also showed that he doesn’t know all of the playbook and is a little lost, but still, this kid needs to play.

On defense, the Kent State offense was completely overmatched and didn’t give us a great idea of where this defense is really at right now. Running straight at Clemson isn’t a winning formula with Wilkins and Lawrence in the middle.

Look for Kendall Joseph to take that next step. He had a dominant game. I saw him tweak his knee slightly, unfortunately. Dexter Lawrence also had a slight limp for the entire game, which was disconcerting and something he is just working through.

Muse filled gaps with authority. Not much to know about the secondary.

I was surprised Sterling Johnson came in and played as well as he did. Still plays too high, but it would be nice if he could provide some snaps at some point. Pinckney was the first DT off the bench.

The UGLY

Not much.

Only substantive injury is a sprained knee to Van Smith. That is something to watch because we don’t have much depth at FS. Simmons and Wallace will play a lot more if Smith can’t go or isn’t full speed.

I saw a few center snaps on special teams that needed to be cleaned up (Will Swinney is going to be a good holder though). Punt get-off time needs to be improved. Teams are going to come after our punter.

The Bad

Not much here either.

Kent State wouldn’t let us run a proper 4th down play.

Looking deeply at the tape, it really was a clean game. I did see Milan Richard miss some blocks at TE or not hold blocks as well as he could have.

On defense we did get out of position a few times on some misdirection. Auburn will test that eye discipline. The D-Line depth will be tested this year. The first wave of DE backups were Chris Register and then we went to true freshman Logan Rudolph before Xavier Kelly. Rudolph looked really good and backed up the hype coming into fall camp where I was told that he would be avoiding a redshirt. Hopefully his shoulder can last all season because he was better than Register. No injuries at DE!

A few arm tackles were missed, a few by Simmons, which was surprising. Muse made a late hit out of bounds, but, meh. I like the aggression.

You could see all of the Quarterbacks minor flaws on display. Kelly is going to need to mature with regards to going through his progressions. Cooper forces some throws and despite his arm talent, gets himself in trouble at times. Hunter is still getting comfortable and adjusting. Folks just need to be cognizant of the fact that we will go through growing pains at QB—it is inevitable this year. But, if Bryant can hit the deep ball with regularity and continue to use his legs effectively, Clemson can win a lot of ballgames.