A lot has been made about Dabo Swinney’s decision to bench quarterback Kelly Bryant after the fourth game of the season and start freshman Trevor Lawrence in his place.
The speculation by many is that Swinney made the decision based on the potential No. 2 Clemson could meet top-ranked Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, which it will next Monday in Santa Clara, Calf.
In last year’s Sugar Bowl, Alabama shutdown the Tigers, limiting them to 188 total yards and just 124 passing yards. Bryant was shut down. Known has a running quarterback, the Crimson Tide first shut him down there and then they took away the passing game. Clemson’s offense had no chance.
“Last year, they were a little more quarterback-run oriented so this year they are making a lot of explosive plays in the passing game and (Lawrence) has done a really good job executing that for them,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Tuesday on ESPN’s Championship Drive Show.
Lawrence has opened up the Clemson offense this year. In the Tigers’ 10 games since he was named the starter, they are averaging 45.7 points and 540.7 yards per game. They are of course undefeated and have won by an average margin of 33.7 points.
“I think they are much more balanced offensively and they can certainly run the ball effectively and they have done that all year long,” Saban said. “But his ability to make throws and make explosive plays downfield with some of the very good talented receivers that they have has created a different set of circumstances.”
Those are the reasons why Swinney said Lawrence is now Clemson’s starting quarterback. Since Lawrence was announced as the starter prior to the Syracuse game on Sept. 29, Bryant has since transferred to Missouri, while Lawrence has the Tigers playing for a second national championship in three years.
“Alabama had zero impact on our decision,” Swinney said on Championship Drive. “I know everybody likes to talk about that, but our decision was based on the present moment. We don’t make decisions based on potential. We make decisions based on performance here.
“Trevor, after four games, his performance dictated the change, not what Alabama was doing or what could happen in the future. It was simply based on performance.”
Swinney said the result of the change came based on what Lawrence did at Georgia Tech on Sept. 22. In Clemson’s 49-21 win, the freshman completed 13-of-18 passes for 176 yards and threw four touchdowns, including a 17-yard touchdown to Hunter Renfrow, a 52-yarder to Justyn Ross and a 30-yard score to Tee Higgins.
“When you start making decisions on potential and all of those types of things then I think you lose your team, number one, and number two you are gambling things that may work out a certain way in the future, but you are not focused on what you need to be focused on in the present moment,” Swinney said. “We just stayed locked in on where we are each step of the way along our journey and our change was made on what was best for our team and based on the performance through the spring, through camp and after four games. In particular, the Georgia Tech game that we had just played.”
The move paid off. Clemson is back in the national championship game for the third time in four years.
As for Lawrence, he has thrown for 2,933 yards while completing 65.5 percent of his passes on 365 attempts. He has 27 touchdowns to just four interceptions.