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QB Kelly Bryant returns for No. 7 Clemson vs Georgia Tech

  • FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2016, file photo, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney laugh as they speak on the field before an NCAA college football game in Atlanta. The schools meet on Saturday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — As Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant sat down to answer questions this week, he flashed a big smile and joked, “Y’all miss me?”

The seventh-ranked Tigers certainly did.

Clemson lost at Syracuse 27-24 after Bryant left the game with a concussion in the second quarter . That was the second straight contest the junior left the game early with an injury. He hurt his ankle in the second half of a win over Wake Forest on Oct. 7.

But now Bryant is out of the concussion protocol and practicing on the ankle that was encased in a walking boot three weeks back . Bryant, the successor to All-American Deshaun Watson, feels ready to lead the Tigers (6-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) against Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1) on Saturday night.

“It’s been a long season and we’re right in the middle of it,” Bryant said. “Nothing is really bothering me. The ankle is feeling good. It’s feeling better than it was feeling last week.”

That’s important news for Clemson, which played like a different team with Bryant sidelined.

He led the Tigers to a 5-0 record in September, including decisive wins over top-15 opponents in Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. The Wake Forest win was comfortably in hand when Bryant left with the ankle injury.

Not so at Syracuse, where Bryant was sidelined with the Tigers trailed 17-14. Clemson and backup Zerrick Cooper only had 148 yards of offense in the second half.

Clemson hopes Bryant’s return helps Clemson reestablish its winning ways and build on its bid for the College Football Playoff. If the Tigers get past Georgia Tech, a showdown for the ACC Atlantic Division looms at North Carolina State next week before finishing at home against Florida State on Nov. 11.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney needs a healthy Bryant to be there for it all.

“Kelly looks good and hopefully he won’t have any setbacks and play a great game on Saturday,” Swinney said.

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Some other things to watch for when Georgia Tech faces No. 7 Clemson:

WHAT A KICK: Clemson’s not sure, yet, who be the kicker for the Tigers this weekend. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney opened the place-kicking competition after back up Alex Spence missed field goals from 35 and 38 yards in the Syracuse loss. He got the job three weeks ago when All-American kicker Greg Huegel was lost for the season with a knee injury at practice. Christian Groomes and Drew Costa are competing with Spence.

TURNING THE TIDE: Georgia Tech has been one of Clemson’s most difficult opponents, beating the Tigers eight of 12 times between 2004 and 2014. But Clemson has won the past two by a combined score of 69-31. Tech coach Paul Johnson knows that’s got to change. “They’re good and we’ve played like garbage,” he said.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall figures the majority of those who talk with him mispronounce his first name, calling him “TAY-quon” instead of his preferred “Tah-quon.” Marshall could go a long way in ending any confusion with a big game against the Tigers. Marshall leads the ACC in rushing and scoring this season. About his name, Marshall said he’ll correct them once in a while, but doesn’t really mind. “It’s no big deal,” he continued. “A lot of people call me ‘Quon’ nowadays.”

STOPPING THE OPTION: Clemson has done well the past two years holding Georgia Tech’s option attack in check. The Tigers allowed just 71 yards on 42 rushes by the Yellow Jackets in 2015. Last year, Georgia Tech gained 95 yards on 38 attempts. “I think some years we’ve had the advantage at certain positions from a matchup standpoint and that always makes a big difference,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

HEISMAN HISTORY: College football’s biggest individual honor, the Heisman Trophy, is named for John Heisman. He coached at Clemson and Georgia Tech among his many stops. Heisman coached Clemson from 1900-03 before moving to Tech from 1904-1919, his longest stint leading a team. Heisman’s Clemson team was 2-0 against Georgia Tech. Once Heisman went to Atlanta, Georgia Tech moved out in front, going 10-2-1 against the Tigers while he was in charge.

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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum from Atlanta contributed to this report.

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More college football coverage at http://collegefootball.ap.org and www.Twitter.com/AP—Top25

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