Senkiw: Clemson’s Two-QB System Is Off To A Good Start

Senkiw: Clemson’s Two-QB System Is Off To A Good Start article feature image

Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Kelly Bryant.

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What started out in the offseason as a “battle” has turned into an effective two-quarterback system for No. 2 Clemson a week into the season.

Heading into a huge road test at Texas A&M on Saturday, head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have been very straightforward with incumbent starter Kelly Bryant and five-star phenom Trevor Lawrence.

The team has also been pretty upfront with the media, within reason. While it’s understandable that the coaches won’t give away game plans, they have never strayed from their message that dates back to the spring: Clemson will play both quarterbacks in multiple games.

When Clemson first rolled this statement out, it didn’t sound great in theory:

What about the old saying that if you have two QBs you have none?

How do you not give their teammates a steady force at the most important position on the field?

It’s impossible to run an offense and not give away what you’re doing based on the QB that’s in the game, right?

After showcasing both quarterbacks in an effortless 48-7 win over FCS Furman in Week 1, the message didn’t change.

The coaches saw nothing that led them to shake up the system heading into A&M. And why would they?

When something is successful, coaches don’t sit around and say, “You know what? That worked really well, but let’s scrap it and go in a completely different direction.”

Neither Bryant nor Lawrence came out of the gate firing against Furman, which is common when you’ve been splitting first-team reps for a month.

But both got comfortable as the game went along, made some impressive plays and protected the football.

Bryant completed 11 of his 17 throws for 132 yards and accounted for two touchdowns – a 40-yard bomb and a 35-yard run. The senior leader did need a couple of fourth-down conversions to extend drives, but he seemed to put the ball in the air with more trust in his playmakers than last year.

Lawrence sparkled in his debut. He went 9-of-14 for 137 yards and tossed three touchdowns. The freshman did throw behind a couple of receivers and was unlucky with a couple of missed assignments by his teammates, but he showcased the strong, accurate arm that fits Clemson’s offense to a tee.

Neither was perfect. Nobody was terrible. And that’s why nothing is changing.

“If you’re going to prepare for Clemson, you’re going to have to prepare for two quarterbacks,” Swinney said. “Maybe that changes, but that’s where we are right now.”

It does force the Aggies to spread out their focus.

“You have two guys that are very effective,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “They are similar in some ways, and they are different in some ways of what they can bring to the offense. We don’t call the game any different with either of those guys in there.”

The Clemson offense is the Clemson offense. The coaches are steadfast on that. And while the play-calling doesn’t necessarily change, the results could, based on the quarterbacks’ skill sets.

Clemson’s attack is about reading defenses and reacting with the run-pass option. The coaches say they give the QBs all the answers; they’ve just got to know which questions to ask.

Bryant is no Lamar Jackson or Khalil Tate, but he’s an effective runner, and that part of his game must be respected. If his accuracy continues to improve as the competition increases, there’s no reason to think he’ll be riding the pine full-time.

Lawrence has a more diverse skill set. His ability to get the ball to receivers in the short and intermediate passing game gives the defense less time to respond.

He can also bomb it.

On a free play after Furman jumped offsides, Lawrence rolled to his right and, with one flick of the wrist, launched a beautiful ball 42 yards to Cornell Powell.

How do you defend the entire field?

He is still new at reading what he sees at this level, but he gives this offense a chance to obtain a different level. When that exact moment comes is unclear.

He has never played in anything like what he’ll see at Kyle Field in College Station. It makes sense to start Bryant and use Lawrence in a very similar manner to Week 1.

Clemson can make this work as long as it needs to, and that may be a quarter into Saturday or a quarter into the season. There’s no rushing it, and there shouldn’t be.

Clemson isn’t trying to see who is most likely to be bad. That’s what makes this competition unique.

It’s when Bryant or Lawrence face adversity and are unable to overcome it that will force the staff’s hand.

Just because a two-QB system isn’t common is not an excuse for bailing on a viable strategy.

Scott says the ideal situation is for both to play well. It’s even more important that Clemson wins, and both QBs can help the Tigers look good in doing so.

Brad Senkiw is a contributor to The Action Network and hosts The Press Box weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon ET on WCCP 105.5 The Roar.