Clemson faces more QB questions before Wake Forest game
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson would like nothing more than a drama-free week heading into its matchup with Wake Forest.
“We’ve been waiting for a normal week for a while,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said Monday.
The fourth-ranked Tigers may have to wait a little longer.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) look to start 6-0 for a third straight season when they visit the Demon Deacons on Saturday.
Clemson needed a fourth-quarter comeback to leave Syracuse with a 27-23 victory. The Tigers had to do it without both of the quarterbacks who had led them to their first four wins of the season, senior Kelly Bryant and freshman Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence, who started the game, was hurt in the second quarter while Bryant decided to transfer earlier in the week once Lawrence was named the starter.
That left untested redshirt freshman Chase Brice, who had just eight career passes coming into the game, to run the offense in its biggest moments. Trailing by 10 points, Brice led two TD drives in the final 13 minutes to lead the Tigers’ comeback.
“I’ve got to embrace this role now,” said Brice, Lawrence’s backup on the depth chart. “You never know what’s going to happen so you must be ready to go no matter what.”
The Tigers got some positive news Monday when Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the 6-foot-6 Lawrence was back at practice.
Swinney had said Saturday that Lawrence had concussion-like symptoms when he headed to the locker room before the end of the first half against Syracuse.
But Scott said earlier Monday that Lawrence’s injury was more a neck strain. The quarterback’s ability to work out with the team makes it more likely he’ll be ready for Wake Forest (3-2, 0-1).
If Lawrence isn’t, Brice feels good about himself after his performance.
He received a congratulatory text from his good friend Bryant after the game. The two spent time together when they ran into each other that night.
“We keep in touch,” Brice said, smiling.
Guard Gage Cervenka, a fourth-year junior, believes players have put last week’s Lawrence-Bryant tumult in the rearview mirror and are going forward solidly behind Lawrence.
Lawrence “earned the spot, it’s not like we just gave it to him,” Cervenka said.
Brice has also earned a higher profile around campus.
The 6-2 redshirt freshman has received a few more pats on the back and excited cheers on the way to class. For Brice, though, he was simply happy he was ready when called upon.
Brice was a four-star prospect coming out of Grayson High in Georgia who was aware Clemson’s quarterback room would have Bryant and five-star performer Hunter Johnson along with Lawrence.
Brice believed if he stuck it out — four quarterbacks including Bryant and Johnson have left the program since January and Lawrence’s enrollment — his time would come.
And Brice delivered when it counted most.
He threw a 20-yard strike to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-6 when failure would most likely mean defeat. He followed that up immediately with a 17-yard run to the Syracuse 15, a drive that ended with Travis Etienne’s go-ahead 2-yard TD with 41 seconds left.
And Brice got a lot of help from his other friends on the team.
Etienne was named the ACC’s running back of the week after gaining a career-best 203 yards along with three touchdowns. Left tackle Mitch Hyatt earned offensive line honors from the league as he led a line that helped the Tigers pile up 293 yards rushing against the Orange.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson knows the Demon Deacons have a stiff challenge ahead of them but he was happy with his team’s improvement in a 56-24 win over Rice last week.
“We made progress and next week with Clemson coming to town, we’ve got to continue that progress and improve physically,” he said.
Scott said the Tigers had reality checks the past two years with losses to unranked opponents. Clemson fell to Pitt two years ago and Syracuse in 2017.
Coaches want them to keep their guard up with another road game this week.