Trevor Lawrence’s performance in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game will go down as one of the greatest in Clemson history.
The true freshman was unflappable in the Tigers’ victory over Alabama last month. Lawrence completed 20-of-32 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns in leading Clemson to its second national title in three years and its third overall.
However, as good as Lawrence has been all year, his performance in the national championship game likely does not happen if it was not for the gutty performance of Chase Brice back on Sept. 29.
“We all see what he can do,” quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter said. “He has matured and has gained confidence each and every week, especially after the Syracuse game. That was very, very helpful and comforting for us as coaches because you think you know what you are going to get, but you don’t know until they get put in that situation.”
The redshirt freshman began that week as the Tigers’ third string quarterback, but by the end of the week he was called on to help lead his team to its only come-from-behind win all season.
“That is just a testament to the coaching staff trusting me, even though I am really a first-year player after getting redshirted,” Brice said. “My preparation came at the right time.”
On Sept. 24, head coach Dabo Swinney announced Lawrence was going to be the starter for the Tigers’ Week 5 game against Syracuse and senior Kelly Bryant, who was 18-2 as a starter in his two-plus seasons, would still play but would come in as the second-team guy. That did not sit too well with Bryant, who left the program, so he could transfer and play one more season somewhere else.
Brice went from the third string guy to the second-team guy. The Clemson coaches were hopeful they would not have to use Brice, but as it turned out, they did.
Midway through the second quarter, with Clemson trailing the Orange, 13-7, Lawrence went down with an injury and did not return to the game.
So, the game and Clemson’s chances at making the College Football Playoff were turned over to Brice, who had very little playing experience up to that point. Through the first four games, he completed just 5-of-8 passes for 37 yards and one interception in mop-up duty.
After a muffed punt at the end of the quarter set up an easy Syracuse touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Brice engineered a 6-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by a 26-yard Travis Etienne touchdown with 11:08 to go that made the score 23-20.
The two teams exchanged punts and then the Tigers stopped the Orange again to take over at their own six-yard line with 6:06 to play in the game. Clemson moved the ball to its own 48-yard line before the drive stalled.
Brice stepped up when his team needed him most — on fourth-and-six from Clemson’s 48-yard line, he dropped back to pass and tossed a beautiful throw to sophomore wide receiver Tee Higgins between two defenders on the near sideline for a 20-yard completion that kept the Tigers’ drive and hopes of winning alive.
After moving the chains with the clutch completion, Brice scampered 17 yards for another first down on the next play, keeping the ball himself on what was a designed run call to Etienne. Four plays later, Etienne gave Clemson the lead for good with his third rushing touchdown of the game, a 2-yard burst that put Clemson up 27-23 with 41 seconds left.
“Chase gained a lot of confidence in himself, but also from his teammates and coaches by that performance,” Streeter said. “He has continued to get better. That is very, very encouraging to us.”
Brice played in 12 games overall in 2018, while completing 62.7 percent of his passes. He threw five touchdowns to three interceptions but had an efficiency rating of 156.13. He threw for 442 yards.
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