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Clemson’s QB Battle Could End Up Looking A Lot Like 2014

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With Clemson’s season starting this week we held a little roundtable on how Clemson’s QB battle should unfold. The entire STS staff was asked the following question, “Imagine you are the Clemson Head Coach. Based on what you know how do you see the QB competition between Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence unfolding this year and what would you plan to do?”

JP: I’d go into the season with Bryant as the guy. I wouldn’t pull the trigger on a switch until it was readily apparent that Lawrence was better. You can’t risk losing the locker room. There’s a fine line to walk with this decision. Pull the trigger to early, you might lose the team, pull it too late, you might lose the season.

DrewTigerAlum: We’re starting Kelly Bryant to begin the season. Kelly led us to the college football playoff last season and played his best in big games. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him and he has earned the opportunity. The first real game is on the road in the heat at Kyle Field in front of 100K Aggies and I want someone who has been in that type of environment under center. I know Lawrence is the popular pick, and he’s going to be a great one, but coaching is all about putting your players in the best position to succeed, and I’m not sure starting him in that environment is setting him up for success.

As long as everything goes according to plan, Bryant’s playing the entire 1st half. I want him to get into a rhythm and I want the offense to grind on A&M’s thin front line. I want the A&M staff to go into half time making adjustments to the Bryant led offense, and then I’m putting Trevor in to start the 2nd half and I’m opening it up. That gives Lawrence a half to adjust to the environment, and it prevents taking out a hot Kelly Bryant. I’m playing him 2 to 3 complete series, most likely the entire 3rd quarter, and then I’ll evaluate where we are as a team. I’m most likely going back to Bryant in the 4th if the game is within a 10 points either way. If we’re down 10 it means Lawrence didn’t get the job done. If we’re up 10 or more, I want a fresh Kelly Bryant in the game to polish off the Aggie defense.

This is going to be the basic template going forward unless one quarterback clearly separates. Kelly is the leader and work horse and Trevor is the guy that comes into the 3rd quarter and gives the offense a shot of energy and keeps the defense off balance.

Alex Craft: It’s no surprise Bryant is the starter at this point and more importantly, it’s nearly impossible to argue against it. The real quarterback competition will take place throughout the season, not in fall camp. I expect plenty of playing time for both quarterbacks; even if Clemson weren’t utilizing a 2 QB system, the amount of garbage time we should face would equal plenty of snaps for the backup. I expect we’ll see more and more of Lawrence as he grows comfortable and truly closes the gap. By midseason, if Lawrence isn’t taking most of the snaps I will be surprised, but I think if that isn’t the case it would be due to Bryant’s improvement.

I expect Lawrence becomes the “full-time” QB by November but hope Bryant retains a role as a short yardage/goal line QB. He was deadly running the single wing (his QB counter is beautiful to behold) in such situations a year ago. Not only would this allow Clemson to potentially get the best of each player, but hopefully keep an extremely popular player in Bryant from feeling cast aside and potentially splitting the locker room. If the locker room sees Lawrence earn the role on the field and understands he makes the team better, I would not expect any sort of drama in the locker room on a team with this much senior leadership; Bryant among them.

John McElhaney: Well, the best time to turn a QB into a safety is before they become a QB, so that route is out the window; it’s too late to move him around and it wouldn’t help him at all. As far as splitting snaps goes, I would try to make it completely non-situational. Bringing TLaw in during a very obvious passing down or KB in on a 3rd & 1 would just hurt both QBs’ ability to perform at their peak, so it would have to be a drive-by-drive thing, maybe 80% KB/20% TL versus A&M. Dabo would probably do what he did in 2014, and I would likely do the same, but if one QB has the hot hand, he stays in. If TLaw doesn’t prove himself ready to get more snaps then there is no reason to give him more, but if KB struggles you don’t want a guy with 0 experience running out to save the game. It’s a very difficult balance to maintain, and I don’t envy the decisions Dabo will have to make there.

Colby: For the quarterback position, I’d stick with Kelly Bryant, assuming he continues to respond and perform well to pressure from other quarterbacks. He was 12-2 as a starter last year, and with more mature and explosive skill position playmakers at WR and RB, his dual-threag abilities can foster. His veteran leadership is something he has over both of the other talented yet young QBs.

As for Lawrence, I’d like to get him snaps in every game. Given talent level of team, it’s likely that most games end up like 2017, where Clemson builds leads and gives their backups valuable experience. Lawrence deserves that same treatment.

If possible, he could wind up playing entire fourth quarters if Bryant-led offense does what it’s supposed to. However, there’s no reason to rush to give Lawrence a starting job yet; fans and media clamored for Hunter Johnson, and Bryant held his job all year. Lawrence will be otherworldly in due time, but for this veteran team, Bryant is the best answer.

C_Craft: I’m looking at this team and this roster vs this schedule and I know I can run the table with Kelly Bryant starting and playing 70-75% of the snaps. Lawrence is the future and he is going to play at least two to three meaningful series a game and not just garbage time. I thought the way Watson/Stoudt was handled was the way to do it. Cole had every opportunity as the starter but was clearly outperformed by DW4 and supplanted in the FSU game. Bryant has more to work with than Stoudt did and is more dynamic, so the pressure to have a transcendent talent behind center is less (until you face a truly elite team).

What can’t happen is not having the #2 ready to go because we saw in the Syracuse game last year how bad that was. Bryant playing on that bad ankle screamed the staff wanted no part in having Cooper or Johnson play in a truly contested game. Just like when Whitehurst should have been rested vs GT in 2005, the staff then played him with a bad shoulder and the team lost an ugly low scoring game. Tajh wasn’t ready in 2010 and we had to stick with a beat up Kyle Parker who wasn’t the same guy hurt.

I’d go with a 70/30 split with KB and TL until the field performance dictates a shift in the distribution. If you put TL over KB then, the team will respect it knowing KB really had to be beaten out in live football. Even Cole had to admit Watson was just too good to keep out of the starting position and the team chemistry didn’t suffer in the least. We can run KB with more abandon with two capable guys behind him. I’ll admit to being worried last year with some of the run load KB took on. I loved HJ as a prospect but the staff not sending him out vs Syracuse said a lot to me about how ready for things he was at that stage. I don’t buy the conspiracy theories about holding him to not scare TL for a second. We risked losing the division with that Syracuse loss. NCST controlled their destiny until we beat them.

It is really hard to find a situation where the cream wasn’t allowed to rise to the top in Dabo’s program. Fans clamoring for a true freshman to start immediately need to understand that the gap has to be significant for a frosh to take an incumbent senior’s job. All things being equal, you go with the more experienced guy. TL is more talented but KB’s experience at this point is the tipping point. It isn’t like Bryant is chopped liver. This isn’t a CJ Davidson or DJ Howard holding the top spot (or Xavier Dye or Terrence Ashe back in 2010), Bryant is a proven talent who has won big games.

Metal_Tiger: I‘m still completely down for this lunacy. But other than running out a 2 QB gimmick system, I think that the best situation is to bring TL along slowly in the first third of the season, allowing him to get game reps under minimal pressure so that he can build some confidence. Once he starts building confidence and you can see that he’s making the right reads, then be ready to hand more and more of the offense over to him. Emphasis on be ready, and not completely thrust it upon him.

If Kelly is doing well, why ruin a good thing? If the reports are accurate and to be trusted, he seems to be much better at putting the ball downfield in practice. Now, whether this translates to a game has yet to be seen. So, if Kelly is doing well and getting us comfortable leads, look for TL to steal some series here and there to gain experience. If Kelly does okay, look for TL to get more and more opportunities. And of course, if Kelly cracks, expect the TL show to begin sooner rather than later. Regardless of how Kelly plays, I would be shocked if TL starts in any of the first 6 games and I would be surprised if he took snaps in the first 4 games without a couple of score lead already in place.

Brian_Goodison: I’m giving Bryant and Lawrence an entire quarter against Furman, both with the starters on offense. Bryant gets the first quarter and Lawrence gets the second quarter. The second half can be some combo of Lawrence, Brice, and Batson, but I’ll be judging based on that first half.

Unless there is a drastic change, I stick with Bryant as the starter against A&M and plan on using Lawrence to how Watson was used against Georgia and FSU in 2014. If Bryant struggles, or Lawrence just lights up A&M, I’m giving Lawrence more and more snaps in the game. Assuming Lawrence hasn’t earned the job at that point I would give both QBs snaps, with Bryant as the starter, until one of them earns the job.

But earning the job shouldn’t just be winning. I want to see this offense become explosive in the passing game. The QB that maximizes our odds of winning through different parts of the offense; QB runs, screens, intermidiate throws, deep throws, is going to earn the job.