For the first time in his young career, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will get the opportunity to show off what he can do in a big-time game when so much is on the line.
In case you have been living under a rock lately, the third-ranked and undefeated Tigers will host No. 15 and undefeated NC State with control of the ACC’s Atlantic Division at stake at Death Valley next Saturday.
This will be the last game this college football season between two undefeated teams in the regular season. Also, it is a rivalry game that in recent years has heated up a bit.
So, how will Lawrence handle the extra pressure, knowing so much is on the line? How will he handle competing against the guy quarterbacking the other team, who is considered one of the top quarterback prospects in next April’s NFL Draft?
It’s the first time Lawrence will head into a head-to-head matchup not being the guy everyone is talking about. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley was the preseason choice for All-ACC honors, and through the first half of the season he is not disappointing.
Finley leads the ACC in total passing yards (1,621 yards), passing average (324.2 ypg), completions (130) and completion percentage (69.5) this season.
Though Lawrence will not actually play against Finley, he might have to outplay him. Finley has diced up the Clemson defense the last two years, having more success against Clemson than any other quarterback.
Two years ago, at Memorial Stadium, he completed 20-of-40 passes for 231 yards as the Tigers found a way to win in overtime. Last year, in Raleigh, he threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns as Clemson hung on for a 38-31 victory.
The good news for Clemson, and he doesn’t seem to do it against anyone else, is Finley has turned the ball over when playing the Tigers, he threw two interceptions in both games. Last year, safety K’Von Wallace picked off a pass at the goal line on the last play of the game to preserve the Tigers’ victory.
So far this year, Finley has thrown just three interceptions in 187 pass attempts to go with 10 touchdowns. He is second in the conference to Lawrence in passing efficiency at 156.8.
Unlike Finley, Lawrence has a rushing attack he can lean on, and that helped the true freshman. Finley is averaging 37.4 pass attempts per game, primarily because his running game has not been very good.
The Wolfpack averages just 3.85 yards per carry and 144.8 per game on the ground, both numbers rank 12th in the conference. They are averaging 37.6 carries per game.
Clemson on the other hand is averaging 40 caries a game and is averaging 7.0 yards per carry, which leads the ACC. The Tigers rank second in the conference in rushing yards per game at 280.8.
The running game, led by Travis Etienne’s 761 yards and 11 touchdowns, has helped Lawrence settle into his role as the starter. This will be the freshman’s third game as the starter for Clemson.
So far, he has played well. He has played in every game, starting the last two. Lawrence has completed 69 of 100 passes for 868, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Lawrence has played in big games already in his young career. He played at Texas A&M in Week 2 and threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins on his first play.
However, this game is different. This is now his team. There is no Kelly Bryant anymore to come off the bench if he struggles. The Tigers will ride Trevor Lawrence to the end.
The question is how will he do in his first big test as the starting quarterback in a game that has so much riding for both teams?