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Impact players Week 1: Offensive newcomers shine in season opener

This time last year, the Clemson Tigers had strength and momentum in numbers. More specifically, they boasted strength key cogs returning on offense,  leading the Tigers on a second consecutive charge to the national title game. 

This year, with a third consecutive trip on the line, the Tigers are being forced to start anew on offense, with a multitude of newcomers to the starting lineup bringing with them many questions regarding just how well the Clemson offense will jell on the Tigers’ path to the College Football Playoff.

After the highly-decorated stint experienced by the Tigers with Deshaun Watson under center, a changing of the guard has occurred at the quarterback spot now that Watson has taken his talents to the NFL. 

Following a three-man competition to find Watson’s replacement, junior Kelly Bryant was named the starting quarterback by head coach Dabo Swinney prior to the opening game, with Bryant receiving high praise from Swinney for his commitment and dedication.

“Kelly has gone above and beyond,” Swinney said to the media. “He doesn’t want anything given to him.”

A relentless worker, Bryant boasts impeccable speed and agility in the backfield and is slated to bring a running game to the quarterback spot not previously experienced under Swinney’s leadership. 

Of course, quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson were adept runners but fit under the category of pro-style quarterback much more comfortably than Bryant. 

Bryant, on the other hand, sports a frenetic energy in the backfield that will enable him to cause major problems for opposing defenses, which he showcased in earnest by way of his dominant showing against the Kent State Golden Flashes in the season opener. 

Going 16-22 for 236 yards and a touchdown, Bryant sliced and diced the Kent State secondary en route to leading Clemson to a commanding 53-point win. Bryant was solid on the ground, too, accruing a career-high 77 yards rushing on seven carries, including an eight-yard score.

Aiding Bryant’s cause in the backfield is running back C.J. Fuller, who was also named a starter at the conclusion of fall camp. 

Despite being undersized and lacking significant experience in a major role, Fuller wowed throughout the buildup to the season, impressing with his power coming out of the backfield and the threats that he presents downfield. 

“C.J. has definitely risen to the top,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said after Fuller won the starting job. “After over 2,000 reps of practice that all those guys have gotten, you’ve got to have a starting point, so he’ll definitely be the guy getting that starting point.”

Making several critical plays in the receiving game in previous seasons, Fuller held a role that could be best described as scatback when downhill runner Wayne Gallman was starting in the backfield. 

This year, after beating out several incredible running back talents in the process of earning the starting job, Fuller will be expected to carry his weight in the rushing game.

And he is off to a great start after making a mark in his starting debut on Saturday, scoring twice on the ground and finishing with 51 yards rushing.

One of the more underrated members of the Clemson offense this season is tight end Milan Richard. An outstanding blocker, Richard is much more of a traditional tight end than the ones that Clemson has grown accustomed to having start in recent years, but his intangibles make him a downfield threat, too. 

At 6’2,’’ 255 pounds, Richard is a force to be reckoned with coming off of the line, and, with great hands and impressive agility, he is poised to be one of Clemson’s top weapons in the passing game this year.

Prior to this fall, Richard made his most significant impact on special teams, consistently showing out in the blocking department on returns. But after his

70-yard showing against Kent State, which included a 44-yard catch, Richard has proven himself to be so much more than a good special teamer.

“I’m really happy for him,” Swinney said when discussing Richard’s performance versus Kent State. “He can hit a gear. It was fun to see him out there, taking advantage of his opportunity. It was a great start for him and that’s what we were looking for in this ballgame.”

The Clemson offense experienced one its best performances in a season opener in team history on Saturday, collecting 665 yards, which is a program record for a season-opening game. 

Winning 56-3, Clemson dominated in all facets of the game and was particularly special on offense, with several newcomers making immediate impacts. 

While one could reasonably say that the Tigers are flying under the radar offensively at the start of this season, that probably will not be the case for long, as Saturday’s showing indicates that the Clemson offense is still one of the best in the nation and primed to lead the Tigers on yet another valiant chase for national championship glory.



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