They missed him plenty, and now No. 2 Clemson has three victories against Top 25 programs engineered by its new quarterback.
“When we got here, I could sense the energy and the excitement,” Bryant said. “The coaches did a great job of preparing us.”
Making just his fifth start, the junior ran for 94 yards, hit Tavien Feaster with a pass the speedy running back took 60 yards for a score and avoided mistakes for the Tigers, who beat the No. 12 Hokies 31-17 in a game that Clemson seemingly controlled throughout.
He also might have reminded some of Deshaun Watson when he kept alive a scoring drive after scrambling left on a play that started at the 5, dodging three Hokies, shaking free from an ankle tackle and eventually turning back upfield at the 23. He zigzagged back to the 4.
“I just have a never quit attitude,” Bryant said. “The guy tackled me by I just kept my legs going and saw the lane and tried to hit it.”
Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster was more impressed by the player than the plays his guys missed.
“What a dynamic kid,” Foster said. “We couldn’t get him on the ground.”
Added Tigers coach Dabo Swinney: “He decided to run 50 yards in a box. Unbelievable.”
The defending national champion Tigers (5-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) also have beaten No. 13 Auburn 14-6 and No. 17 Louisville 47-21. This triumph was their 12th in a row on the road and fifth in a row against Virginia Tech, including the 2016 ACC championship game.
Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1) never mustered much offense and got its only touchdown after Isaiah Simmons made an ankle tackle on Greg Stroman’s 43-yard punt return to the Tigers’ 2.
Sean Savoy ran it on the next play, but the Hokies had just 234 yards through three quarters.
“We knew the sledding was going to be difficult no matter what they lined up in,” Hokies coach Justin Fuente said.
Feaster and C.J. Fuller also scored on 1-yard runs for the Tigers, and Dorian O’Daniel returned an interception 22 yards for a TD.
Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson threw two interceptions after throwing 11 touchdown passes and just one interception through four games. He accounted for the final score with a 30-yard pass to Savoy with 1:32 remaining.
Hokies leading receiver Cam Phillips had seven catches for 74 yards and came away most impressed with the Tigers.
“They may be the best team in the country. They’ve got athletes everywhere, a great defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Brent Venable. “They did their homework and those guys were in the right spots and they made plays, which is what good teams do.”