Hunter Johnson

Clemson quarterback Hunter Johnson (15) drops back to pass during action against Wake Forest. More photos at TheTandD.com.

DONNYKNIGHTPHOTOGRAPHY.SMUGMUG.COM

CLEMSON — The Clemson offense enters this week’s game against the Syracuse Orange boasting one of the most balanced attacks in college football.

Through the first five games of the 2017 season, Clemson is one of only three teams — joining Ohio State and Oregon -- averaging at least 230 yards rushing and 230 yards passing. However, the Tigers may be without a big piece of their offense this week — quarterback Kelly Bryant, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest.

“Just about Kelly, obviously gonna let Coach Swinney be the one voice this week talking about his update of where he is. But our offensive guys are confident we’re ready to go,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said Monday. “Obviously you want your starter in there if he can be in there. We’ve definitely had other situations where if our starting quarterback was out, it would be a pretty drastic drop-off. But we really like the depth that we have behind Kelly.”

Bryant was absent from his weekly media availability Monday afternoon, with the reason for his absence said to be “midterms and treatment.” If Bryant is unable to play Friday night, the quarterback duties will fall to either redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper or true freshman Hunter Johnson.

Regardless of whether Bryant is available to play as the Tigers travel to New York for a Friday (7 p.m., ESPN) showdown, the coaching staff is confident in the quarterback.

“I think the first thing is, like a lot of positions, where we are offensively, we feel really good about our depth at quarterback,” Scott said. “Whether Kelly’s able to play this week or not, there’s going to be times throughout the season where he may not be available. As a coaching staff and as an offense, we have a lot of confidence in those other guys because of what they’ve done in practice and then getting some opportunities in games.

“Both Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson, they’ve been rolling with that second group really since spring practice. So they’ve gotten a lot of experience up there with that group.”

The job will not be easy for whomever the Tigers send out to take on the Orange, as they will face one of the most dynamic and creative defenses they have played this season.

“They do a really good job on defense, probably the most complex — next to Boston College — defense that we’ve played this year,” Scott said. “They bring pressures and blitzes about 48-percent of the time, so they’re always going to have guys trying to get into the backfield. They also do a really good job with their coverages behind it.

“A lot of times when people are bringing a lot of pressure and blitz, you really get one or two coverages behind it. But these guys are playing a lot of combo coverage. They mix it up, show you a lot of different looks. So it will be very important this week that everybody’s on the same page with all the different looks we’ll get from them.”

The Tigers have accomplished exactly what they wanted to through the first half of the season — being undefeated and sitting in first place in the ACC Atlantic Division. But with only one game between the Tigers and a bye week, the message from the coaching staff as they enter the final game is simple -- finish strong.

“Coach Swinney’s challenge to our guys has really been to spring through the finish line right here before the open week,” Scott said. “We’ve done a lot of good things in the first six games, and we really wanna put an exclamation point here on the last game before we take a break for the open week.”

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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