Clemson, S.C. — Clemson proved again that it has the resolve to maintain its hold on the Atlantic Coast Conference. And the depth.
Quarterback Chase Brice, who went from third-stringer to comeback kid in a week, helped the Tigers rally to beat Syracuse on Saturday.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) entered the season juggling two starting-caliber passers in senior Kelly Bryant and freshman Trevor Lawrence, a five-star prodigy. But Bryant left the team early this week after being demoted behind Lawrence, and the new starter went out in the second quarter against Syracuse because of a possible concussion.
That left Brice, who was fifth on depth chart last January but no slouch. Brice, a redshirt freshman, was a three-star recruit from Grayson, Georgia, in the class of 2017. He is the type of player that dozens of schools, even Power Five teams, would love to have.
“I was thrown into a situation where I needed to produce,” he said. “And I was prepared.”
Lawrence could be back as soon as next week against Wake Forest for Clemson, which slipped a spot to No. 4 in the Associated Press top 25 on Sunday. Coach Dabo Swinney said Lawrence wanted to go back in against Syracuse after taking a hard hit in the second quarter, but coaches refused.
Clemson leaned on Travis Etienne and its running game to wipeout a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Syracuse. The Tigers had 198 of their 293 yards rushing in the final two quarters. Etienne ended with 203 yards and three TDs.
Brice played his part, too. He converted a fourth-and-6 with a 20-yard strike to Tee Higgins, and then followed with a 17-yard run to get to the Syracuse 15. Etienne sent Memorial Stadium into a frenzy with his go-ahead, 2-yard score with 41 seconds to go.
Swinney said his team had the “heart of a champion.”
Will that be enough?
Four years ago, Swinney handed the keys to the offense to freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson in Game 4. Watson hurt his finger two games later and did not return for more than a month. When he did get back in, Watson hurt his knee at Georgia Tech — an injury that required offseason surgery — and played just once more.
Clemson had an insurance policy in 2014 in senior Cole Stoudt, Tajh Boyd’s backup who steadied the team through several games of a 10-3 season.
These Tigers lost their safety net with Bryant’s decision to transfer. The schedule still has a home game with No. 23 North Carolina State and road trips to Florida State and Boston College where experience should matter.
But Clemson is moving forward. When asked Saturday about Bryant’s chances of rejoining the team, Swinney said he’d talked enough about his former quarterback. “I’ve addressed everything I’m going to address on Kelly” Bryant, he said. “Wish him all the best and we’re moving on.”
Swinney thinks the players are, too.
He said senior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins took Lawrence out to breakfast last week to settle the young quarterback’s nerves and ensure that he knew the team was behind him.
Bryant’s departure “was emotional,” said Clemson right guard Sean Pollard, a junior. “We heard rumors early in the week, the locker room was falling apart,” he said. “That was such a lie.”
Swinney’s certain his team has the right attitude to make it through any obstacles.
“I saw unbelievable leadership this week,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see young people especially rally and believe and hang in there.”
UMass suspends coach
Massachusetts suspended football coach Mark Whipple for one game after he said one of his players had been “raped” while complaining about the officiating Saturday in a loss to Ohio.
Athletic director Ryan Bamford announced the suspension of Whipple without pay for the Minutemen’s home game against South Florida on Saturday, and all team activities leading up to it. Defensive Coordinator Ed Pinkham will serve as acting head coach.
Whipple is in the fifth year of his second stint as UMass coach. He has also been a longtime NFL assistant coach. He is 14-40 with UMass since 2014, but from 1998-2003 he led the Minutemen to five winning seasons, including a Division I-AA national title. UMass now plays at the highest level of Division I, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“I am deeply sorry for the word I used on Saturday to describe a play in our game,” Whipple said in a statement. “It is unacceptable to make use of the word ‘rape’ in the way I did and I am very sorry for doing so. It represents a lack of responsibility on my part as the leader of this program and a member of this university’s community, and I am disappointed with myself that I made this comparison when commenting after our game.”
UMass lost 58-42 at Ohio in Athens. Whipple called the officiating the worst he had experienced in his long career and was asked about possible pass interference call against one of UMass’ receivers that did not draw a penalty from the Mid-American Conference officiating crew.
“We had a chance there with 16 down and they rape us, and he picks up the flag,” the 61-year-old Whipple told reporters.