It was not without resistance, however, on Saturday night Clemson defeated in-state rival, South Carolina for the 5th year. Entering the game it’s fair to say the majority of Clemson fans expected to blowout South Carolina given the difference in ability and health between the 2 teams. The Gamecocks on the other hand, were having none of it, scoring 35 points in an Offensive effort that shocked everyone, especially when you consider that Clemson’s 1st team Defense had not given up a Touchdown since September.
But while the Defense uncharacteristically struggled, the Offense thrived. Clemson’s Offense has always been loaded with talent, but the last 2 weeks the Offense had shown a few inconsistencies and minor wrinkles that it had not shown since their comeback win over Syracuse. That changed on Saturday night, as the Tigers were ruthlessly efficient driving drove down the field against South Carolina’s defense time and time again.
The driving factor behind the Offensive dominance? The play of Trevor Lawrence, who completed 27 of his 36 passes for 393 yards and a TD. The Freshman played a near flawless game, even finishing with the highest overall grade for any Offensive College Football player in the country per Pro Football Focus.
Some nights you just have it, other nights you don’t. For Lawrence, it was the former, and the Freshman QB threw numerous passes that made everyone’s jaws collectively drop. Trevor was incredibly accurate on the run, threading passes into the tightest of windows. He was also good with his feet. At times this season Lawrence’s pocket presence has needed improvement, but against the Gamecocks, Lawrence was not sacked a single time as he evaded whatever pressure came his way. Two throws, however, stick out more than any other plays he made. The first, was not even completed. A perfect pass to the outstretched arms of Cannon Smith was just off the mark, but the audaciousness and accuracy of the throw showed yet another flash of what Trevor Lawrence is capable of. The second throw was a 3rd and 12 play to Renfrow; most pro QBs wouldn’t even dare attempt this throw. Lawrence throws the ball before Renfrow is even open, yet the throw was somehow still perfectly placed to where only Hunter could catch it.
There’s been an obvious and exciting progression for Lawrence throughout the course of the season. The true Freshman is on an accelerated learning curve, and he’s adjusting just fine. There have been growing pains mostly through minor mistakes, but still issues that Clemson would serve best to have corrected before the playoffs begin. No Freshman is perfect no matter how talented they are, and Trevor Lawrence is a good example of this. At times Trevor could try to do too much, such as is first start against Syracuse when he tried too hard to gain a few frivolous yards and knocked himself out of the game. Lawrence also has shown a tendency to check out of run plays more often than he should (this is not necessarily a huge deal). But a few days ago, Lawrence was incredibly efficient and looked in complete control of a Tigers’ Offense that scored 56 points while racking up 744 total yards.
Perhaps just as important as his skill progression has been, the progression of Lawrence’s demeanor and confidence indicate he’s more and more ready for the biggest stage every week. There is an obvious difference between Lawrence’s confidence now compared to his first 2-3 starts. He has always shown a bit of moxie, but now that he’s gaining experience and confidence in Clemson’s system, he’s beginning to feel more confident in his own abilities. This was evidenced by his stare-down of Gamecocks’ coach Will Muschamp after throwing a dart to Tee Higgins.
If Saturday’s game was any indication, if Clemson wants to defeat Alabama in a potential national championship, it will need to score a good number of points in order to do so. By no means do I expect Clemson’s Defense to repeat a performance like Saturday in the playoff, but if they make those same mistakes against Tua Tagovailoa, or another elite QB, it will be difficult for the Tigers to win it all. Clemson has a dominant Defense, but the Crimson Tide are well equipped to exploit their weaknesses.
The hypothetical matchup that led to Dabo Swinney to pull the trigger on the QB change, is in a sense also the barometer we hold the young signal-caller to. It’s always been that way because Tiger fans know a great Lawrence performance is what it is going to take to win their 2nd National Championship in 3 years. This upcoming Saturday will be Trevor’s 9th career start, and final test before the College Football Playoff. But is Trevor Lawrence ready to play in the playoffs and/or against Alabama? While there is no way to be certain Lawrence is ready until this hypothetical matchup actually occurs, Clemson’s game against its in-state rivals showed Lawrence is more ready than he’s ever been.