No. 3 Clemson resolves QB situation, Syracuse up next
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson has left no doubt about who their starting quarterback is this week. The third-ranked Tigers also have far fewer options behind center.
The Tigers (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will cap off a drama-filled week Saturday when they face Syracuse (4-0, 1-0). Trevor Lawrence locked is in as Clemson’s starting quarterback after senior Kelly Bryant chose to transfer instead of sitting behind the 6-foot-6 freshman.
Bryant had started all four games this year after helping Clemson capture a third consecutive ACC title and make another College Football Playoff appearance.
The loss of Bryant, who was 16-2 as Clemson’s starter, is disappointing, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
“But we have to move forward. We have to rally the troops,” he said. “The guys have to do their job.”
Especially against the rejuvenated Orange, who are seeking their first 5-0 start since going 11-0-1 in 1987. They’re also looking to beat Clemson two straight years, something an unranked team has not done to losing team in the top three in the AP rankings since Washington did it to Southern Cal in 1980 and 1981.
Syracuse outlasted Clemson 27-24 in part when Bryant came out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion and the Tigers offense could not get its big-strike game going.
“Last year was a big win, a natural steppingstone, just to show that we play with these guys and beat them,” Orange linebacker Kielan Whitner said. “That instilled some confidence.”
Syracuse has gotten tons of confidence off this year’s start. The noteworthy win so far was a 30-7 victory over Florida State earlier this month that was never in doubt.
Orange running back Dontae Strickland said his team is coming to Clemson with a similar mindset to last year. “Knocking them off was something big,” he said. “We’ve got to keep it moving this year.”
Things to watch when No. 3 Clemson plays Syracuse:
Bryant’s departure leaves Clemson with almost no experience at the position. Lawrence is making his first start. Behind him are redshirt freshman Chase Brice and true freshman Ben Batson, who was converted from defense this past winter to beef up the depth chart before spring ball. Brice has eight career passes. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the team was working up a package where receiver Hunter Renfrow would play quarterback. Renfrow was a dual-threat quarterback at Socastee High in South Carolina.
The Syracuse run game is purring behind a veteran offensive line. The Orange are averaging 278 yards rushing per game — last year they averaged 161.5 yards — and have scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. RB Dontae Strickland has five rushing TDs to tie for the ACC lead and ranks 12th nationally, while Dungey has four scores on the ground.
Clemson’s Bryant attended the team’s quarterback meeting Tuesday morning, giving Swinney some confidence he would remain with the Tigers despite the pairs’ “emotional” talk Monday when Lawrence was named starter. But at practice, Bryant was absent and a staffer found out he had gone home. Swinney soon received a text from Bryant about his plans to leave.
THE OTHER QB:
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is front and center in his team’s revival. Dungey is fourth in ACC total offense and is tied for second in the league with nine TD passes. He missed his team’s 54-0 loss at Death Valley two years ago as he was knocked out early with a concussion. Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns last fall in the stunning upset over the second-ranked Tigers.
MID-FIELD DANCE OFF?
The game features two of college football’s most prominent postgame celebrators in Clemson’s Swinney and Syracuse’s Dino Babers. Swinney is famous for his somewhat sketchy, off-kilter, dad-type moves after victories by the Tigers. Babers is also a first-class orator who has fired up his players after wins, notably after beating Florida State two weeks ago as he punctuates his speeches with “Who’s house?” as his players yell back, “Our house!”
AP Sports Writer John Kekis from Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.