It’s no secret why Clemson made a change at quarterback following its win at Georgia Tech on Sept. 22.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney knew if the Tigers wanted to seriously contend for another national championship, it had to improve in the passing game. It was obvious to everyone that Trevor Lawrence was the guy who could get them to that point.
Former quarterback Kelly Bryant was a winner. There was no doubting his ability to lead. With Bryant as the starter and No. 2 Clemson still using a two-quarterback system, the Tigers more than likely would still be undefeated and more than likely would win another ACC Championship.
However, the question is would Clemson be able to win a College Football Playoff Game with Bryant as the starter and Lawrence just coming in for certain series? Probably not.
The better question is could Clemson beat top-ranked Alabama if it played the Crimson Tide in a playoff game or the national championship with Bryant at the helm? Probably not.
Do the Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) have a better shot at beating Alabama with Lawrence as the full-time quarterback. Absolutely.
You can make an argument Clemson should have beat Alabama in the first meeting between the two teams in the 2016 CFP National Championship Game. Why? Because of Deshaun Watson. If it was not for a couple of mishaps on special teams, the Tigers would have won the game.
Watson’s ability to make NFL caliber throws under pressure and into tight windows down the field is the reason Clemson almost won the 2016 matchup and did win the 2017 game. Alabama’s defense does not give a quarterback much room to throw the football and there is very little room for error.
To beat them, the quarterback has to be willing to take a hit an deliver an accurate football on time down the field. Alabama played Kelly Bryant in last year’s Sugar Bowl the same way they did Deshaun Watson the previous two years.
Watson threw for 405 and 420 yards in each game while throwing seven touchdown passes to one interception. Bryant threw for just 124 yards and two interceptions with no touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl loss. To beat Alabama, a team must have a quarterback who can deliver the ball down field in tight windows.
In the last three games, Lawrence has shown what he can do throwing the ball. In blowout wins over Wake Forest, NC State and Florida State, the true freshman completed 66-of-101 passes (65.3 percent) for 797 yards (265.7 yds/game) with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We’ve just matured and grown into our identity,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I think the play of Trevor has been amazing. He’s just been awesome, done a great job with managing the game, and he’s made some incredible throws.”
In the month of October, Clemson’s offense thrived with Lawrence at the helm. The Tigers averaged 54.3 points and 564.3 yards per game. Both figures led the ACC, while their scoring led the nation in the month.
Overall, Clemson ranks first in the ACC in scoring (44.1 pts/game) and total offense (522.6 yds/game). Both figures are ranked sixth and eighth respectively in the national rankings.
The Tigers are second in the league in rushing offense (237.0 yds/game) and third in passing offense (285.6 yds/game).
As for Lawrence, he leads the ACC in yards per attempt (8.5), touchdowns (16), fewest interceptions thrown (2) and passing efficiency rating (164.2). He is also second in completion percentage at 65.3.
In the last two games—a 34-point win over NC State and a 49-point win at FSU—Lawrence has thrown for a combined 622 yards and five touchdowns, including scoring tosses of 46, 58 and 68 yards to Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers.
“Our receivers have played very well, and I think just our ability to have balance … We’re one of the few teams out there that’s up there in passing and rushing,” Swinney said. “We’re one of the better rush offenses in the country and pass offenses in the country, and that’s what everybody wants to do, but that’s really hard to achieve.
“So, I think our balance and the fact that we have run the football so effectively this year, and then just the big play ability that we have at receiver and the performance of Trevor…So we’re just playing winning football right now and taking care of the ball.”
All of that makes Clemson a legit contender to beat Alabama in the CFP if it gets the opportunity.