Freshman Lawrence boosts Clemson over the top

by Gary Shelton on January 8, 2019 · 2 comments

in general

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

This is why is he is here. This is what he was brought here to do.

He is the equalizer. He is the difference-maker. He is the not-so-secret weapon who boosted Clemson over the top.

He is tall, and he is lanky, and he looks like the bassist for Metallica. Now, he is also  a champion. Trevor Lawrence, the talented freshman, shut down college football's biggest factory Monday night leading the Tigers to an easier-than-you-would-think upset of top-rated Alabama.

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Think about it. A year ago, Lawrence was getting ready for the prom and working on his English homework at Cartersville (Ga.) High School. Frankly, you could argue that a lot of programs needed a quarterback more than Clemson.

Hey, Clemson had Kelly Bryant back, and he had led them to the playoffs. Even with Bryant, the Tigers figured to be good.

But not like this.

When Alabama beat Clemson last year, and smothered Bryant's passing game in the process, it reminded Tigers' coach Dabo Swinney that, to win a national title over the Tide, a team had to have a good quarterback. So the Tigers recruited Lawrence, and after four games, they made the switch.

Now, the question is just what took Dabo so long.

"He was the best player, and that's not a knock to dis Kelly Bryant -- and I love Kelly Bryant," Swinney said, looking back on the switch. "What a great player he is. But my job is to make decisions that put the team in the best possible path to win, and after four games he was the best player. I think you saw that, and in fact, I think when I got here, Ollie's first question to me when I got here was, hey, what are you going to do, Tua has never lost a game, and I said, well, I don't think Trevor has, either. I'm just going to work on my guy here and see if we can walk off this field and keep our guy undefeated."

Lawrence hit 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards Monday night, leading the Tigers to a 44-16 rout of the Tide. Oh, it wasn't all Lawrence. The Tigers' defense kept stopping the Tide on downs, and the receivers ran through Alabama's secondary as if it was USF's.

But the difference between the Clemson team that lost to Alabama last year and the one that had its way last night was Lawrence, who found Justyn Ross (six catches)  for 153 yards and Tee Higgins (three catches) for 81 yards. Because of Lawrence, Alabama no longer looked regal. They looked like just another team that couldn't slow Clemson down.

"I feel like we had a good plan and we knew what we were doing," Lawrence said. "Obviously every game there's some adjustments, especially they come out doing some stuff a little different than you might think they will. We had to make some adjustments, but really just proud of how we handled everything and really thankful for my O-line, no sacks tonight, and they did an unbelievable job."

The win left Clemson at 15-0, the first team to get to that record since 1897, when the game was as much like the game of today as checkers is to chess.

"There's so many great coaches that are so deserving of a moment like this and never get the chance to experience it," Swinney said. "To get to do it once and now to get to do it again, it's just a blessing, and it's just simply the grace of the good Lord to allow us to experience something like this. I'm so happy for our team, our fans, our administration, our former players. You know, I know we're not supposed to be here, and I'm not supposed to be here, but we are, and I am, and how about them Tigers, man?"

Look, let's acknowledge that Alabama has had two of the most dominant coaches in college football history in Bear Bryant and Nick Saban. But the key to beating the Tide always has been a great quarterback. Look at the quarterbacks the Tide has beaten in its  last dozen national championships. Georgia's Jake Fromm was a freshman. Deshaun Watson was a sophomore (who put up 40 points in the title game he lost, then won the next year). Notre Dame had Everett Golson. LSU had Jordan Jefferson. Colt McCoy of Texas was hurt after throwing two passes.

There was Gino Torretta, and Arkansas' Kevin Scanlon, and Penn State's Chuck Fusina, who was a serviceable pro but no star. There were the first three quarterbacks that Bryant won titles over:George McKinney of Arkansas, Marvi Krystyniak of Texas and Fred Duda of Nebraska. None of them completed as many as half of their passes.

You get the idea. When Alabama plays an average college quarterback, it eats them alive. But when a player like Lawrence kicks in the door, it's a different ending.

"In games like this you've got to make big plays, and the guys that we have, they definitely did that. You just give them a chance, and they'll come down with it. Like I said about the O-line, same thing about the receivers and running backs and everyone else. Just amazing players and really just so proud of -- it took a lot to get here, but really just proud of those guys."

Saban was impressed by Lawrence.

"I think he's played extremely well all year long," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Lawrence. "We knew that their receiving corps was probably the most talented that we've seen as a group all year long. 8, 5, 13, those guys are really, really talented guys, and again, I said it earlier, we had opportunities to get off the field on third down, and we couldn't get off the field. I mean, they were like 8 of 11 at one point in time, 10 of 15 for the game, and we gave up big plays, not just first downs, but we gave up big plays."

It evened Clemson's record at 2-2 in the last four title games against Alabama.

And next year?

Already, oddsmakers have picked Clemson as a favorite and Alabama as the runner-up for next year's title game.





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