Johnson: Bryan Breaks Out

Sharing time with Anthony Hill last season, it's easy to forget just how well George Bryan played as a redshirt freshman. Saturday night he reminded everyone of how talented he really is.

Sharing time with Anthony Hill last season, it's easy to forget just how well George Bryan played as a redshirt freshman. Saturday night he reminded everyone of how talented he really is.

On a night where Russell Wilson's record-breaking performance will get the most attention, it's Bryan's emergence as an offensive weapon that had the biggest impact on the NC State offense. As the Pack faces tougher secondaries in the coming weeks, having Bryan and his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame as a check-down target will make Wilson's life a lot easier.

"I always want to be there," Bryan said. "I hate when our quarterback gets hit and if I'm not out there, which has happened a couple of times, he usually gets hit or takes it and runs and that's another opportunity for him to maybe get hurt. I want to get out there, get where I need to be and maybe he can hit me."

The night didn't start out well for the sophomore tight end though, as Matt Kushner earned the start over him. But Bryan simply used it as motivation. When the Pack needed its first big play on 3rd and six, Bryan hauled in a 16-yard completion to keep the drive alive and enable the Pack to take an early 7-0 lead.

"It's just a team effort and I happen to be the guy who got open to throw the ball to," he stated.

And while you might expect the tight end to pick up small gains over the middle, Bryan kept making big plays. His next catch was for a 19-yard gain, his next catch for 12 yards. Then as the Pack went into its two-minute drill at the end of the half, the sophomore stepped into the spotlight.

He picked up a 13-yard completion on the second play of the drive, then pulled in a spectacular catch from Wilson in the endzone for a 17-yard touchdown. Running a flag route on the play, Bryan beat his defender to the corner of the endzone and hauled in the difficult catch over his shoulder.

The play was Bryan's first touchdown of the season, but it wouldn't even be his last of the game. Gardner-Webb kept blitzing its linebackers, leaving a sea of open space for Bryan to operate in and he took advantage. The sophomore built on his great first half by adding another touchdown grab to his stat sheet, this time a 12-yard touchdown reception to make it a 38-0 game.

This play was designed perfectly against the blitz. The Wolfpack ran out of the I-formation with two tight ends, and Wilson's playaction fake froze the safeties. He bootlegged out to his left and found Bryan in the back of the endzone who beat a linebacker to make a sliding catch.

"As much as they brought the linebackers and blitzed, there were a lot of holes in the middle of the field where the tight end operates," coach Tom O'Brien said. "It stands to reason that George was going to get some opportunities to catch balls."

Bryan, who led the team in both catches and receiving yards, didn't catch a pass for less than 12 yards all night. His six catches, 89 yards and two touchdowns are all career highs. It's the second time in three games he's led the team in both categories but his four-catch, 22-yard performance against South Carolina was more about how little the rest of the receiving core mustered.

"It's a really big confidence booster," Bryan said of his game against Gardner-Webb.

Remember, Bryan impressed plenty last season despite sharing time with a future NFL draft pick. He finished sixth on the team with 19 receptions but scored four touchdowns, tying him for second amongst all receivers. With Hill now playing for the Houston Texans, Bryan should see the a lot more throws come his way this season.

The trick for Bryan will be improving his blocking enough to stay on the field. It was a focus for the tight end in the offseason and the area of the game where he said he's made the most improvement.

"I worked really hard in the offseason on that because that's what I needed to do," Bryan said. "It can always get better, we can definitely get better."

The Pack's first offensive play of the season served as a lesson of just how important the tight end's blocking can be to the play. Bryan missed a block, the defensive end he whiffed on slammed into Toney Baker in the backfield and things didn't end well.

"I came out a little sluggish, didn't come off the ball," Bryan said. "The other guy just came off the ball and happen to get past me and make the tackle and we fumbled the ball too. It was all on me."

Bryan's maturity in taking responsibility for his mistake has to give his team and his coaches a lot of confidence, despite his mistake. Wilson, who relies on his blocking and catching as much as anyone on the team, has full confidence in his sophomore tight end.

"He's a great player," said Wilson. "He runs great routes. He just has great instincts."

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