CLEMSON – Deshaun Watson was at Clemson’s spring game on Saturday, but he wasn’t one of the quarterbacks throwing the ball.
You didn’t have to know which quarterbacks were throwing the ball on Saturday to recognize that.
On a day where Watson and the other departing players from last year’s team received their national championship rings, it was clear that Clemson will miss its two-time Davey O’Brien Award-winning quarterback in 2017.
The four quarterbacks who were suited up for the Tigers – Kelly Bryant, Tucker Israel, Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson – didn’t complete many long throws or make many big plays in Saturday’s game.
Israel was Clemson’s most efficient quarterback. He completed 13 of his 19 passing attempts for 94 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown pass, to lead the Orange team to a 19-14 victory. Most of Israel’s completions came on short passes, but he did connect with Hunter Renfrow on a 34-yard deep ball up the right sideline.
Cooper completed 11 of 18 passing attempts for 81 yards, with one interception thrown straight to safety Nolan Turner on a long ball over the middle. Cooper put his ability to throw deep on display, but his ability to actually complete those passes remains in question, as most of his completions also came on short throws.
Johnson had the most impressive throw of the day when he connected with Diondre Overton on a perfectly thrown 24-yard fade to the end zone for a touchdown. Other than that throw, however, Johnson looked like a freshman who is in his first semester on campus. He finished with five completions on 13 attempts for 48 yards and an interception, thrown to Denzel Johnson into double coverage on a deep ball intended for T.J. Chase.
Bryant, the most experienced quarterback on Clemson’s roster, had the worst day as a passer, completing only four of 13 passes for 43 yards. His longest play was 32 yards on a shovel pass to Ray-Ray McCloud. He also threw a deep-ball interception, taken away by Korrin Wiggins on a forced throw over the middle intended for D.J. Greenlee.
That said, Bryant was playing injured. After tweaking his hamstring earlier this week, Bryant suffered a tendon injury in his pinkie finger on the first play of the game. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says that if the regular season started today, Bryant would be Clemson’s starting quarterback.
"But we don’t play today," Swinney said. "We play in September, and everything matters. Everything counts."
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said he thought each of the quarterbacks had good moments and bad moments on Saturday.
"There were some times they made some nice throws, and obviously some times where they made some mistakes," Scott said.
Bryant was Clemson’s leading rusher in the game, gaining 66 yards on 12 carries, highlighted by a 20-yard run and a 4-yard touchdown. Cooper’s longest run was 19 yards, while Johnson showed some running ability on a 9-yard gain. Israel did not have any rushing attempts.