January 8, 2019 / 9:17 AM / 7 months ago

Rise of the Tiger: Freshman QB Lawrence carries Clemson to title

SANTA CLARA, California - When Clemson coach Dabo Swinney promoted freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence to a starting role over incumbent Kelly Bryant in September, some people questioned the wisdom of the switch.

Jan 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates with the national championship trophy after beating the Alabama Crimson Tide during the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Lawrence showed why he was Swinney’s choice Monday night, playing like a veteran rather than a newcomer in guiding No. 2 Clemson to a 44-16 victory over No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game.

Lawrence completed 20 of 32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns to earn Offensive Player of the Game honors.

“Well, he was the best player,” Swinney said. “That’s not a knock against Kelly Bryant, and I love Kelly Bryant. What a great player he is. But my job is to make decisions to put the team in the best possible path to win, and after four games, I think you saw that.”

Lawrence started the team’s fifth game of the season and led Clemson to an 11-0 record as a starter while shattering many school records held by Deshaun Watson.

When Swinney was asked last week how his team was going to handle Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who had never lost a game with the Crimson Tide, Swinney had a simple response.

“I said, ‘Well, I don’t think Trevor has (ever lost a game), either,’” Swinney said. “So I’m just going to work on my guy and see if we can walk off this field and keep our guy undefeated.”

—Clemson has won two national championships in three years and improved to 5-2 in College Football Playoff games over the past four years with its victory over the Crimson Tide.

The Tigers’ senior class matched Alabama with 55 victories and two national titles over that time span, and Clemson’s run of success may not slow down any time soon.

Clemson’s primary offensive players are all underclassmen. Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross are both freshmen, while running back Travis Etienne and wide receiver Tee Higgins are both sophomores.

Those four players combined to account for all of Clemson’s five offensive touchdowns against Alabama.

“I can’t wait to get back and start all over again on Friday and see if we can do it all over again,” Swinney said. “We’ve got Travis and Trevor and all those guys back, some dynamic pieces. It’s going to be a fun bunch.”

—A couple of key interceptions were instrumental in Clemson’s victory.

Tigers safety A.J. Terrell stepped in front of a Tagovailoa pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown on the Crimson Tide’s third play of the game.

Later in the first half, cornerback Trayvon Mullen intercepted Tagovailoa, and his 46-yard return set up a touchdown eight plays later that pushed Clemson’s lead to 28-16 just before the half.

Terrell, a sophomore, led the team with three interceptions this season. Mullen, a junior, recorded his first interception of the year, but he had eight tackles and a forced fumble Monday in addition to his pick. He’s considering a jump to the NFL.

—Clemson handed Alabama its worst defeat ever under coach Nick Saban. The reason why came quick and easy to Saban after the blowout.

“If you look at the stats of the game, the yards and all that are fairly equal, but the score wasn’t because of turnovers and not getting scores in the red zone and not getting off the field on third down,” Saban said.

Clemson converted on 10 of 15 third-down opportunities, and the Tigers’ defense thwarted Alabama on three of its six fourth-down chances.

“You’ve got to give Clemson a little bit of credit — they have a really good team,” Saban said. “But I don’t think one game necessarily defines who we are. We certainly didn’t play very well tonight. We gave up some explosive plays, but their quarterback is really good and their skill players are really good.”

—Field Level Media

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