Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney talks about “the eye of the Tiger” and “the heart of a champion” all the time.
Although Trevor Lawrence did not have his best performance on paper in Clemson’s season opener versus Georgia Tech on Thursday night, Clemson’s starting quarterback displayed those qualities while helping the Tigers to a 52-14 victory over the Yellow Jackets at Death Valley.
Lawrence’s heart and determination were particularly evident on one pivotal play in the second quarter. After throwing a pass that was intercepted by defensive back Tre Swilling at Clemson’s 43-yard line, Lawrence did not give up. Instead, he chased Swilling down and tackled him at the 2-yard line to prevent the pick-six.
Clemson’s defense proceeded to pick Lawrence up, mustering a goal-line stand that was finished off by a Denzel Johnson interception. Lawrence then bounced back on the ensuing possession, tossing a 62-yard touchdown to Tee Higgins to cap a 94-yard drive and give the Tigers a commanding 28-0 lead with under five minutes to play in the first half.
“I will tell you this – if you want to know what Trevor Lawrence is made of, you just go back to that interception,” Swinney said. “You talk about setting the tone for the team and setting the tone for a goal-line stand … Bad things happen. I mean that’s just the game. They’ve got good players and nobody’s perfect. But it’s how you respond to those things, and it would have been very easy for him to kind of have that loser’s limp, kind of lazy loaf, ‘Oh I can’t get him.’ But man, he didn’t hesitate. He took an angle, he was hauling tail and he was on a mission to not let that guy score, and that set the tone for the defense to go out there and have a goal-line stand.
“So, I talk about ‘the eye of the Tiger’ and ‘the heart of a champion’ all the time. It’s kind of a hard thing to describe, but you know it when you see it and you know it when you don’t, and that was it. That’s what it looks like.”
Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott echoed Swinney’s sentiments after the game.
“One play that I think about is when he threw the interception and he goes and he makes the play,” Elliott said. “That’s the eye of the Tiger, the heart of the champion. Coach Swinney says it all the time – it’s hard to explain, but you know it when you see it, and he could have easily took the fact that he threw the ball right to him and it was a pick-six. But man, what did he do? He ran down there, he knocked the guy down. The defense comes up with a stop, and now we go 94 yards.”
Lawrence finished 13-of-23 passing for 168 yards with the one touchdown and two interceptions. The second pick came on the final play of the first half when he was off-balance near the sideline trying to throw the ball out of bounds, and it got away from him.
“The first pick, they just fooled us and did a great job there,” Swinney said. “The second one, he was trying to throw it away and just didn’t get all of it.”
Lawrence is known for his elite arm talent and not his legs, but the sophomore opened the scoring with a 6-yard touchdown rush less than four minutes into the game. Overall, he ran three times for 24 yards including a 14-yard scamper.
“That’s what we need from him,” Swinney said. “He’s got to make plays when it’s there, and he’s got to extend plays. The one long run he had was just a scramble. Again, they played a lot of coverage. So, he did a nice job creating and extending some plays.”
While it wasn’t the prettiest showing for Lawrence on the stat sheet, Elliott is confident that the best is yet to come this season for the Tigers’ signal-caller.
“Trevor is the leader of our football team, and obviously he made some great throws,” Elliott said. “He’ll go back, he’ll assess his performance and he’ll use that as fuel to help him to continue to improve.”
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