Clemson’s offense racks up 665 total yards, beats Kent State

Clemson’s Darlin Rencher takes drives through the line for a short gain in the second half.

Cameron Hoover

If there were ever a formula for a potential upset, the game Saturday between Kent State and Clemson may have been it.

Clemson, ranked fifth in the nation coming off of a national championship season with a brand new starting quarterback, could have looked over a team such as the Flashes, who finished 3-9 last season, ranked 121 of out 130 NCAA FBS schools by CBS Sports earlier this year. This could’ve been a classic example of a “trap game” for the Tigers.

Fortunately for the Tigers, that trap door remained closed as they blew Kent State out of the water 56 to 3, reaffirming their position as one of college football’s powerhouses.

Watching Kelly Bryant in the moments leading up to the game, you would have never guessed that he was making his first career start.

He was loose and relaxed, dancing all over the field, while winding through rows of teammates. This comfort level was apparent quickly, as Bryant and the Tigers shot out of the starting blocks and never looked back.

After making the famous run down The Hill and rubbing Howard’s Rock, Clemson began celebrating their 2016 championship pregame commemoration by putting points on the board before most fans even found their seats.

As former Clemson standout and current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson looked on from the sidelines, C.J. Fuller got the Tigers on the board with a 26-yard touchdown run about a minute into the game, and the team didn’t take their feet off the gas for the rest of the day.

Bryant quickly added his first touchdown pass of the season on a deep ball to a wide-open Deon Cain. Cain noticed that Kent State’s cornerback was lined up against him man-to-man, and knew he’d have a field day.

“(Kent State’s) defensive coordinator needed to try a different call,” Cain quipped, “because man coverage on me, that’s kind of hard. At the end of the day, that’s what he called, so I just had to execute.”

Adam Choice scored on a 3-yard punch-in and Clemson found themselves up 21-0 before the first quarter had ended

Multiple scores later and Clemson reigned victorious, picking up a simple win over Kent State, the final score 56-3.

Bryant dazzled in his first start, completing 16 of his 22 passes for 236 yards, a touchdown and a deflected interception, while also running for 77 yards and a touchdown.

“You heard me say a couple times, ‘If he would just play anywhere remotely close to what he’s done in camp, he’s going to be pretty good,'” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said of Bryant.

“That’s what I was hoping for, and I’m just really happy for him. He’s put in a ton of work. It was great to see how poised and confident (he was).”

Bryant didn’t seem too surprised by his success.

“It clicked during spring ball, with me and the guys,” Bryant said. “This is the opportunity we’ve been working for, so let’s go ride. Let’s make something out of it.”

Clemson thrashed the Flashes from all angles during the game. The Tigers’ defense dominated the tempo of the game, setting the edge on every play, keeping Kent State’s ballcarriers within reach.

Swinney said he was surprised the Flashes only attempted five passes, but that predictability was undoubtedly a factor in Clemson’s defensive dominance. (One of those attempts was completed for one yard.)

Clemson outgained the Flashes 665-120, including 312-1 through the air. The Tigers managed 34 first downs during the annihilation, while Kent State only mustered five.

Tanner Muse, Kendall Joseph and Chad Smith led the way for the Tigers’ defense with six total tackles each.

The contest opened up with the normal pregame theatrics that Clemson fans have come to expect — the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, an invocation — but this game had something special.

Clemson unveiled signs around their stadium commemorating their 2016 national championship.

If you asked Swinney, though? It was just another game.

“I wasn’t celebrating (the national championship) today,” Swinney said. “I’m just celebrating beating Kent State.” 

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].