Despite a nightmare scenario, No. 3 Clemson survived a huge scare from Syracuse.
The Tigers lost freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence to injury in the second quarter, but they managed to come from behind and beat Syracuse, 27-23. Clemson trailed for the entire second half, but reclaimed the lead on a Travis Etienne touchdown run with 41 seconds to go. Etienne’s score capped off a 13-play, 94-yard drive engineered by Chase Brice, who came on for the first significant action of his career in relief of Lawrence.
Brice made some mistakes along the way, but delivered his best pass of the game — a 20-yard connection with Tee Higgins — on fourth-and-6 from the Clemson 48 with 2:50 to go.
Five plays later, Etienne, who rushed for a career-high 203 yards, scored his third touchdown of the game, ultimately giving Clemson a 27-23 win and Syracuse its first loss of the season.
Trevor Lawrence was injured in the second quarter and didn’t return
Lawrence, in his first game as the Tigers’ starting quarterback, took a hard hit to the head in the second quarter while trying to extend the play on third down. As Lawrence, who is replacing Kelly Bryant, stumbled to the turf, he was hit by Syracuse defensive back Evan Foster.
Here’s another look, with Foster’s shoulder hitting Lawrence right in the helmet:
Lawrence was down on the field briefly and was taken to the medical tent to be evaluated. He was then escorted to the locker room by Clemson medical staff. He did not return.
Lawrence exited with the Tigers trailing 13-7. With Bryant, a senior, making the decision to transfer, redshirt freshman Chase Brice entered the game as the team’s backup quarterback.
What does this mean for Clemson?
Well, Clemson, now 5-0, has endured upset losses and still made it to the College Football Playoff in the past. In fact, the Tigers lost to the Orange last year and made the CFP, so it would not have been the end of the world. But it would have felt different considering the injury to Lawrence and the uncertainty surrounding it, notably how long he will be out.
While Brice showed flashes (he was a four-star recruit, after all), the Tigers’ prospects are much better with Lawrence under center.
Kelly Bryant’s transfer is much more magnified now
Lawrence, a five-star recruit who enrolled in January, began the season as Bryant’s backup. Bryant was the team’s starter last fall and led Clemson to the College Football Playoff, but Tigers coach Dabo Swinney gave Lawrence playing time in the team’s first four games of the year.
Lawrence received the bulk of the playing time in the Week 4 win over Georgia Tech. On their first two drives of the game, the Tigers mustered just 13 total yards and one first down with Bryant at quarterback. With Lawrence in the game, Clemson scored on three of its next four drives. Lawrence finished the game 13-of-18 for 176 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. By comparison, Bryant, who re-entered the game with Clemson holding a big lead, was 6-of-10 for 56 yards.
On Monday, Swinney announced the change: Lawrence would start with Bryant as the backup. That did not sit well with Bryant, who decided to transfer a few days later. Since Bryant played in four games this year, the new redshirt rule allows Bryant, who already graduated from Clemson, to retain a season of eligibility. He will be able to play at another school next fall.
Meanwhile, that left the Tigers very thin behind Lawrence at quarterback. Brice was a four-star recruit in the 2017 class, but entered Saturday’s game with just eight career passes. Now, he will lead the way for the Tigers until Lawrence’s return.
Could Kelly Bryant return to the Clemson team?
Yes, but only if he is still enrolled as a Clemson student. According to the ABC broadcast, Bryant is indeed still enrolled. If that is the case, he would still be eligible to return to the field for the Tigers.
As Swinney returned to the field for the second half on Saturday, ESPN’s Holly Rowe asked him if he’d let Bryant return to the team.
“Heck yeah,” Swinney said. “I love that kid.”
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