Ever since the spring, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was up front about his quarterback competition. He said once there was a sign someone had separated, everyone will know it.
Everyone saw the separation last week in Clemson’s 28-point win at Georgia Tech.
Trevor Lawrence threw four touchdown passes and led the second-ranked Tigers to five touchdowns in the six possessions he led the offense.
It was obvious to most everyone at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta that Lawrence had separated himself from Kelly Bryant in Clemson’s quarterback competition. The true freshman finished the afternoon 13-of-18 for 176 yards to go along with his four touchdown passes. He also had an efficiency rating of 216.6.
This past Monday, Swinney made the call and named Lawrence the starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against Syracuse.
“I’m excited for Trevor,” Swinney said. “I think he has earned it. That is really it.”
Bryant was not as excited, obviously. The senior, who was 16-2 as a starter and led the Tigers to an ACC Championship last season, quit the team and has decided to transfer to another school to play his last year of college football.
“I hate it for Trevor because he has done nothing but just show up and go to work,” Swinney said. “His job is to be the best version of himself. He should not apologize for being a great player. It is just like when Deshaun (Watson) won the job. Deshaun hurt for Cole (Stoudt). I hurt for Cole. We had tears together. It was bad. But, he hung in there and he was the MVP of the Russell Athletic Bowl.”
Bryant’s departure is a hard thing for Swinney and the Clemson team to watch, but the Tigers’ head coach has stuck by his decision to let Lawrence make his first start as a college quarterback at noon on Saturday.
This isn’t the first time Lawrence beat out an upperclassman to become the starter. When he was a freshman back at Cartersville High School in Cartersville, Ga., Lawrence eventually beat out junior Miller Forristall to become the starting quarterback.
Lawrence went on to a 52-2 record as a starter in high school, while breaking almost every passing record in the state of Georgia, including those held by former Clemson All-American Deshaun Watson. Forristall, by the way, is a redshirt sophomore and one of the starting tight ends at Alabama.
“He started as a freshman in high school for a reason,” Swinney said. “I asked him, ‘I’m sure there was a junior or senior that you probably beat out or something like that and I’m sure there was drama associated with that?’ I think he said, ‘Yeah, that guy is starting at tight end now for Alabama.’
“Listen, it just comes with the territory. He is a great player. He has earned it. He has had to earn it. And that is what he has done. I’m proud of him for just being him and doing what he needed to do to put himself in this position. If he does not earn it, we are not having this conversation.”
Lawrence has earned the right to be Clemson’s starter by completing 65 percent of his 60 pass attempts for 600 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranks eighth nationally in quarterback efficiency at 191.8, which also leads the ACC.
His 10.0 yards per attempt average ranks 10th nationally and leads the ACC, while his 9 touchdown passes rank 23rd nationally and are tied for second in the conference.
“There is no question that he has elite, elite ability to push the ball down the field. That is pretty obvious to see,” Swinney said.
Of Clemson’s 21 offensive touchdowns, Lawrence has led the Tigers to 14 of them. Again, nine of them were touchdown passes … seven more than Bryant had.
“It is just execution. He has just made some unbelievable plays,” Swinney said. “I don’t have it in front of me, but he has a bunch of touchdown drives, a bunch. He has just been very, very productive.
“This is just rewarding the performance that we have seen and just the productivity that we have seen.”