After a long offseason of celebrating the 2016 National Championship, the Tigers returned to Death Valley to open up the 2017 season. Fortunately, Clemson was able to break in a new offense that lost almost 80 percent of its production from last season against an overmatched opponent, the Kent State Golden Flashes. Clemson started off the game strong and never looked back after scoring on its first three drives of the season and not allowing Kent State to score more than a field goal.
Kent State often looked lost on the field, receiving numerous delay of game penalties, and overall just lacked the talent to even think about keeping up with Clemson. The talent discrepancy led to total domination in the game by the Tigers and allowed them to put up several impressive stats, including scoring 56 points, running up 665 yards of offense, and allowing Kent State only 120 yards of total offense. Several players stood out for Clemson on both sides of the ball, including some very impressive freshman.
Offense: The Running Backs
Normally I’ll try to only pick individual players, but sometimes an entire position group will stand out and it will be impossible for to pick just one player. This was the case on Saturday, as Clemson’s running backs ran the ball well. CJ Fuller started the game for the Tigers and set the tone early by scoring the season’s first touchdown on a 26-yard scamper. Fuller would score again on a 2-yard touchdown run in the 3rd quarter to finish with 51 yards on 7 attempts.
Adam Choice also scored on a 3-yard touchdown run, which was nice to see after hearing about his struggles with injury in fall camp. The two guys Clemson fans have been begging to see all offseason didn’t disappoint. Sophomore Tavien Feaster showed off his blazing speed in the 3rd quarter when he took a handoff from 47 yards out into the end zone, finishing the run by crossing the goal line leaning forward like a track star. “FeastMode” finished with 69 yards rushing and his lone touchdown on just 6 attempts.
Perhaps the most exciting play of the day came from true freshman Travis Etienne, when he almost broke a long touchdown run but was dragged down after a gain of 54 yards, the longest run of the day. He probably would have scored on the play if an umpire wasn’t in his way. Etienne’s talent is obvious. He hits the hole hard and explodes through the line of scrimmage and runs like an absolute mad man. He finished the game as the Tiger’s leading rusher with 81 yards and eventually hit pay dirt on Clemson’s final scoring drive when he carried one from 4 yards out. Clemson must find someone (or maybe in this case, a few guys) to replace the school’s all-time leading rusher, Wayne Gallman. Replacing an all-time guy like Wayne won’t be easy, but the Tigers definitely have a few good options to do so.
Defense: Austin Bryant
In a game where the defense limits the opposing offense to only 120 total yards of offense, every player deserves a tremendous amount of credit. Several guys preformed well at every position, but two guys stuck out to me the most. The first guy that comes to mind is defensive end Austin Bryant. On a day where individual stats did not impress as much, the junior played well early and stood out on a line that is loaded with size, speed, and talent. It’s hard to stand out when you play on a defense with the likes of Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, but Austin was able to on Saturday. Bryant finished with 5 tackles, which was good for second on the team overall, and while his stats may not sound that impressive the energy he played with was. It was encouraging to see him play well after not having the season many expected him to last year. Look for Bryant to improve off of this performance and help stop Auburn’s offense next week, which looked decent on Saturday versus Georgia Southern.
Overall Player of the Game:
Usually, I’ll try to identify a player who has a big impact on the game, but might not be the most obvious guy chosen. However, this week’s player of the game has to go to the obvious choice, Kelly Bryant. Bryant made his first career start at quarterback for the Tigers and was impressive from the beginning. On the first play of the game, Kelly held the ball on a read option and picked up 12 yards on the play. His running ability was put on display several times after that. He almost broke a long touchdown run on a 47-yard scramble, but stepped out of bounds at the 9-yard line. He scored on a zone read right before halftime where he outran everyone to the corner of the end zone. He also made several impressive plays throwing ball. His first pass of the game was a simple throw to tight end Milan Richard that went for 26 yards, but he made some other throws that were much more impressive. He hit a wide open Deon Cain for a 61 yard touchdown bomb on a beautifully thrown deep ball. He did throw one interception, but the blame for his mistake could be put on the receiver as Tee Higgins did get a hand on it. Kelly played for just a little more than a half, but managed to finish with impressive numbers. He completed 16/22 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 77 yards on only 7 attempts and adding a score on the ground.
Despite the lack of competition, Bryant’s performance should still appreciated. Not only is he the new quarterback of the defending national champs, he’s also replacing the school’s greatest player ever, Deshaun Watson. Not to mention the fact that he has several other talented guys right behind him ready to take his starting job away. The pressure was high for KB to preform well in this game, and that’s exactly what he did. Hopefully this performance will give Bryant the right amount of confidence needed to preform well next Saturday when Auburn comes to Death Valley , which will definitely be his biggest test yet.