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Bryant Shines vs Jackson, Louisville

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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As a quarterback, to stand out in a game against a team that features the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, at the same position, might be the most impressive thing one can do.

As a quarterback, to stand out in a game against a team that features the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, at the same position, might be the most impressive thing one can do.

Jackson was solid, to be sure, totaling 381 yards of offense with three scores, but Bryant’s passing total was just a yard shy of his quarterback counterpart’s, and he completed almost 19% more of his pass attempts with 2.4 more yards per throw.

Granted, the running game was firing on all cylinders for Clemson, tonight, but that doesn't happen without Bryant’s contributions. He was the catalyst for what ultimately proved to be an offensive juggernaut, against Louisville.

Adding to the already high degree of difficulty surrounding this contest, tonight’s matchup marked the junior’s first road game as a starter, first game against a ranked opponent, first road game against a ranked opponent, first conference game, first road conference game, first conference game against a ranked opponent, first road conference game against a ranked opponent, and first game against Lamar Jackson, amongst a few other firsts, too, probably.

And for his efforts, he garnered some high praise from an old friend.

That might be a bit of a stretch, but the sentiment carries weight.

Perhaps most telling was Dabo Swinney and the Tigers’ reliance upon Bryant when it came to those ever-crucial third downs. All-in-all, Clemson attempted 17 third down conversions, of which nine moved the chains. Out of those nine converted third downs, Bryant was responsible for eight.

He was also more effective on the ground than the box score would have people believe, given that college stats inexplicably count sacks as negative carries. Five of his carries went for at least five yards, and one of the handful that did not went for a score, because five yards were not available.

Kelly Bryant is not Deshaun Watson. The increasing number of, admittedly inevitable, comparisons to his predecessor is unfair, unreasonable, and off base. That said, as good as his defense is, he might not need to be, in order to compete for championships.

Earlier this week, it felt like Clemson’s defense would determine the team’s ceiling. Their dominance had already shown a pretty high floor, but some offensive holes, and prior shortcomings, left many with a feeling that this team would live and die with Wilkins, Lawrence and company.

Now, that might not be the case. The defense is still, inarguably, the heart and soul of the Tigers, and the preeminent chance to defend their title. The version of Kelly Bryant seen tonight, though, raises this group’s ceiling exponentially.

With the offense running like a well oiled machine, with Bryant involving all of the countless weapons at his disposal, with the evolution of Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud (for which Bryant deserves some credit, and vice versa), Clemson, in 2017, is much closer to Clemson, in 2016, than most people would have predicted.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what is and is not meaningful in this crazy sport, but this is pretty easily digestible: Lamar Jackson wasn’t all that far off from the Lamar Jackson that the college football viewing community has come to know, while Kelly Bryant was the best version of Kelly Bryant to date, and the latter’s team won handily.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP