By now, it is no secret how much extra sauce Trevor Lawrence adds to Clemson’s Offense. Since the true freshman took over for Kelly Bryant in week 4, Clemson’s offense has not only improved leaps and bounds, but it is also infinitely more explosive than it was before the change. This improvement can be felt throughout the WR corps, from the veteran Hunter Renfrow, all the way down to the new true freshman receivers Derion Kendrick and Justyn Ross.
While the receivers have produced at a high level since Lawrence took over, it was not always a guarantee that Clemson’s passing game would be this dominant. Yes, Clemson as WRU has accumulated vast amounts of WR talent, and after using it sparingly last season has shown no fear to air things out this year. At the same time, this talent was largely unproven. While many members of WRU were 5-star talents out of High School, they had not yet produced on the college level consistently. Talents like Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers didn’t see as much action as they probably should have last year due to the emphasis on the run game, and Kelly Bryant’s inability to throw the ball downfield. These players flashed their talent, but it was never a guarantee they could replace the production of drafted receivers Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud. In order to be as elite as they could be as an Offense, Clemson’s inexperienced WR corps had to show that it could take the necessary strides forward.
But don’t let that fool you, everyone has always known that this offense had this much potential, and when Trevor Lawrence stepped foot on campus it was only a matter of time before this potential was tapped. In his last 3 outings, Lawrence’s numbers feature 66-101 on attempted throws, for 797 yards, and 7 TDs. He’s reached 300 yards passing in both of his last 2 starts. That’s already a significant improvement from Clemson’s passing game a season prior, and Trevor still has so much room to grow.
Trevor has grown incredibly fast for a player his age, but he is not the only one. This progress has allowed for the rise and showcase of the Sophomore WR talents. As I mentioned earlier, Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins both could’ve been given more opportunities to show off their talent last season. Coming into the season, no 2 WRs had higher expectations in terms of their next steps forward in the program. Both answered the call before the QB switch even took place. In Clemson’s first primetime game of the season, Amari caught 5 passes and ripped one of them for a 64 yard long, while Tee “mossed” a defender before running all the way to the end-zone in Clemson’s first “wow” play of the year. But as long as Kelly Bryant was the team’s QB, these 2 wouldn’t be given the chance to make their full imprint on Football games. Now that Trevor is under center that has changed. Last week Amari caught 6 passes for 156 yards and 2 TDs. Over the last 3 weeks, Tee Higgins has caught 19 passes for 236 yards and 4 TDs. Both have become staples in an Offense that has been close to unstoppable once the first quarter ends.
Area studs Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins have combined for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns so far today. pic.twitter.com/WsFosKS6fV— Marc Whiteman (@MarcWhiteman) October 27, 2018
As for the Freshman, they weren’t expected to make as big of an impact as they have, with Justyn Ross in particular having produced an outstanding season for a first year player. Ross has constantly provided a vertical threat in the passing game, and due to his physicality has already passed older players on the depth chart. Having a QB that can throw the ball the way Lawrence does allows Clemson to call more passing plays, and thus get more reps for this insanely deep WR corps. Ross and Kendrick are likely never given this many opportunities to shine on last season’s team. The passing attack is improving every week, and unsurprisingly so has the play of the young WRs has as well.
Even 3rd-year (yet still inexperienced in terms of snap count) players such as TJ Chase and Diondre Overton are getting involved. Because Clemson rotates so many of it’s receivers, it always has a fresh set in the game. The increased emphasis on throwing the Football has given players down the depth chart an opportunity to thrive as well. Overton has caught 10 passes for 3 TDs, while Chase has caught 8 for 1 TD respectively. Even though these players are considered “3rd string”, they have been given ample time to see the field due to the newfound emphasis on throwing the ball.
Although the Offense is young, Lawrence does have one important veteran to help bail him out of a jam. In what might be his 20th season with the team, Hunter Renfrow returned for his final year with the Clemson program. Having a player that understands how to get open and do their job as well as Hunter Renfrow is an immense benefit to any offense. When you provide a safety valve like that for a true freshman QB, it can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your offense in general. I don’t mean that as a blanket statement either, Hunter Renfrow makes big catches on 3rd downs, and constantly keeps the chains moving for the Tigers (but Clemson fans knew this).
So while the entire Clemson receiving corps has benefitted from the QB change, no one has benefitted more than the young, and/or inexperienced players on the roster. The WR corps was extremely talented entering the season, however, they were also inexperienced. Trevor Lawrence, and his growth as a Freshman QB has provided the perfect opportunities for these young receivers to also grow and improve. Outside of Quarterbacks, Wide Receiver is maybe the most important position to Clemson’s Offensive success. If they want to defeat Bama and other playoff foes down the road, they will need this rapid development at both positions to continue.