CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Defensive end Austin Bryant said the message for No. 2 Clemson is clear: Don’t lose focus.
The Tigers (6-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) wrap up their first half of the season when they head to Syracuse (3-3, 1-1) on Friday night. On the other side of that is a two-week break, during which time they’ll have time to rehab injuries. Quarterback Kelly Bryant will get treatment on a left ankle sprain, which forced him to leave in the third quarter of a 28-14 win over Wake Forest last Saturday.
Austin Bryant, no relation to teammate Kelly , said none of it makes a difference to the Tigers’ mindset.
“One thing we’ve been harping on these past couple of days is sprint into the bye week, not limp into it,” Bryant said. “We want to finish the first half of the season out strong.”
That will be harder to do if Kelly Bryant can’t lead the offense.
The junior quarterback has seamlessly replaced two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson and helped the Tigers extended the nation’s longest win streak at 11 in a row. Bryant has run for seven of Clemson’s 21 rushing touchdowns and has passed for 1,259 yards this season.
But Bryant gingerly walked off the field with an ankle injury after Clemson took a 21-0 lead on the Demon Deacons. He wore a walking boot on his left foot after Saturday’s game and was limited as the Tigers started practicing Sunday night for Syracuse.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said while Bryant’s ankle was sore, he expected his quarterback would be back at workouts later in the week and would have a chance to play against the Orange.
If not, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said backups Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson have done enough work at practice since the spring to run the attack.
Bryant, Cooper and Hunter were all fighting for the starting spot when the Tigers reconvened after their national championship season for drills in March. Scott said the trio all took equal snaps and were rolled into the starting offense with the thought they would be the starter come fall.
Even after Bryant won the job in August, Cooper and Johnson continued practicing like they would play.
“We’ve had that more this year than we have in the past, not knowing who the starter was going to be most of the year,” Scott said.
After Bryant left the game against Wake Forest, Cooper and Johnson split time the rest of the way. Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound freshman rated the top quarterback prospect last year by ESPN, notched his first touchdown pass in the fourth quarter last week.
Scott said Clemson has always prepared its backups hard, even though Watson started every game of the previous two seasons and only came out when the score got out of hand.
“I’ve been really pleased with how Kelly’s managed everything,” Scott said. “To come in as a first year starter, to fill the kind of shoes he had to fill, and the numbers each week are about the same” as during Watson’s two-year run.
Syracuse coach Dino Babers the Tigers’ offense is loaded with speed and playmakers, no matter who starts at quarterback.
“They’re faster than us. If they get out there, we’re not going to catch them. Sorry,” Babers said. “We can’t let them get out there.”
Kelly Bryant did not seem too worried about his health after Saturday’s game, joking that he felt great since the Tigers got the win. Bryant said his plans were treatment most of the week to get himself ready for Syracuse.
Tailback Travis Etienne said the offense will work smoothly with any of Clemson’s quarterbacks behind center.
Etienne said, “Coach Swinney does a great job of just keeping everybody on the right track.”
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