CLEMSON — For Clemson on Saturday, the football team's task was two-fold.
First, get the game in, despite Hurricane Florence, or what's left of it, wreaking havoc on parts of South Carolina.
Second, beat Georgia Southern and get to 3-0.
The Tigers were able to accomplish both Saturday afternoon at Death Valley, thumping the Eagles, 38-7, for another win against another team the Tigers were supposed to beat.
But Saturday was not free of drama and Clemson could have to answer some crucial questions heading into next week. Chief among them is the status of starting senior quarterback Kelly Bryant, who was injured in the second quarter.
Bryant had the breath knocked out of him after he was hit in the chest. He played one more series before leaving the game and did not return to the Clemson sideline until the end of the third quarter. Freshman Trevor Lawrence capably ran the offense for the rest of the game.
The official word from Clemson is that Bryant suffered a chest bruise, and coaches are optimistic that he will recover quickly.
"They did a little EKG because his breathing was kind of out of whack a little bit, so they did a little EKG on him and they actually did a CT scan on him to make sure there was nothing else going on," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "But he should be fine. I guess he got hit somewhere in the chest and his heart was kind of racing a little bit. But again, he's doing good."
What went right
Clemson desperately wanted to get this game in to avoid any type of rescheduling issues in the future, and the Tigers were able to accomplish it with few problems. The Tigers, who were favored by more than 30 points, led 24-0 heading into the fourth quarter and though sloppy at times, were never in question of winning. The youth movement was in full effect as Lawrence and Justyn Ross sent Death Valley into a frenzy with a dazzling 57-yard touchdown that involved a Ross juke step. Freshman defensive end Xavier Thomas also got his first career sack.
Speaking of the defense, Clemson's esteemed defensive line had all sorts of flashy plays with five sacks — two of which belonged to senior Austin Bryant and two of which belonged to redshirt junior Clelin Ferrell. Nyles Pinckney, a redshirt sophomore defensive tackle, also forced a fumble and recovered it in the second half. Swinney has said all year long this is the deepest team he's ever had and many underclassmen proved him right Saturday.
Running back Travis Etienne rushed for 162 yards on 16 carries with a pair of touchdowns, continuing to prove he is and will be a star in years to come. With the win, Clemson accomplished exactly what it set out to do. Now, the Tigers can keep their regularly-scheduled bye week and move on with business as usual.
"I think he's definitely made some progress," co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said of Eitenne. "We really wanted to get him some extra touches (Saturday) to see what he could do ... I think he's really coming into his own and he's only going to get better and better."
What went wrong
Bryant's injury was cause for concern, though it now appears to be nothing serious. Clemson will want to make sure he is healthy and get him back on the field as soon as possible.
Overall, Clemson's offense looked sloppy and careless through the first quarter, with the opening three drives coming to a halt via a Bryant interception, a Greg Huegel missed field goal and an Adam Choice fumble.
In the second quarter, the Tigers needed four tries to punch in a score despite being on the 2-yard line. Georgia Southern kept Clemson scoreless through the first 24 minutes of the matchup. The Tigers also didn't look as disciplined as the nation's No. 2 team needs to be, racking up seven penalties for 65 yards. The offensive line left much to be desired with its performance, and Huegel missed two field goals.
In the fourth quarter, Lawrence threw an interception that led to Georgia Southern's only touchdown.
"Sometimes you've got to get people's attention and make sure they’re hungry. When you’re hungry, you don’t leave chicken on the bone," Swinney said of a decision to sub out his first-team offensive line after those goal-line struggles. "We left too much chicken on the bone."
After three terribly sloppy drives, Etienne finally got Clemson on the scoreboard with his touchdown run. Once the Tigers got going, they were fine to put the game away.
Clemson travels to Georgia Tech next week where the Tigers take on Paul Johnson and his triple-option offense. With the Yellow Jackets having lost star running back KirVonte Benson to a season-ending injury, Georgia Tech is more vulnerable than usual. Clemson, however, has had moments of sloppy play for two weeks in a row. Kickoff time Saturday is 3:30 p.m.