GLENDALE, Ariz. — Trevor Lawrence was not a fan of the play call that ultimately sent No. 3 Clemson to its fourth national championship game appearance in five years.
With the Tigers trailing No. 2 Ohio State by two points late in the fourth quarter Saturday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, Lawrence hit running back Trevor Lawrence for a 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 to go. It turned out to be the game winner in the Tigers’ 29-23 come-from-behind victory.
“Honestly, I wasn’t a big fan of the play in practice, because it’s tough if the defense doesn’t really bite on it and that safety comes down hard. It takes it away,” Lawrence said.
However, in this situation the Tigers faced on Saturday night, the 34-yard jump pass by Lawrence was the perfect call.
“Trevor and I talked about it on the sideline, ‘Man, is this fun or what? I’m not real sure how we’re going to win this thing, but we’re going to win the game and it is going to be an epic thing,’” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I actually went over and met with him right before the last drive there, and we talked about two or three things that I felt like we had set up. And one of them was the play to Travis. We had run a little quarterback counter a couple of times there.
“So, it was set up. Don’t have to have great protection. It is a really hard run fake. He really executed it beautifully and Travis found a way to get through the trash and took it to the distance.”
Clemson (14-0) set up the winning play thanks to Lawrence’s ability to run the football very successfully throughout the game. The sophomore rushed for a career-high 107 yards on 16 carries. He even had a 67-yard scamper for a touchdown near the end of the first half.
“I was a little bit — I felt like it was good because of how well we set it up throughout the game and thought it was going to work then,” Lawrence said. “Throughout the week, I was like I don’t really like this play. In the moment, we had a chance.”
Clemson started the game-winning drive at its own 6-yard line with 3:07 to play, but the Tigers needed just four plays to cover the 94 yards. Lawrence first hit Justyn Ross for 11 yards and then he ran for 11 more to move the ball to the 28-yard line.
On the next play, Lawrence looked off his initial receiver and found Amari Rodgers crossing the middle of the field where the speedster broke a tackle and took the ball 38 yards to the Buckeyes’ 34. Then the play Lawrence had trouble with all week in practice was called.
“Is that why you threw it in the dirt two or three times (in practice)? I made him reload it, like, three times,” Swinney said.
Fortunately for Clemson, Lawrence did not need to reload this time. On the next play, he faked like he was running the football on a quarterback run, a play they ran several times in the game, but instead he jumped up and threw the ball to Etienne who ran to the end zone and carried a couple of Buckeyes with him along the way.
After Tee Higgins converted the 2-point conversion from Lawrence, the Tigers held a 29-23 lead with 1:49 to play.
“It’s tough. You’ve got guys off the edge coming. O-line did a really good job holding them off,” Lawrence said. “It is a weird play for them. It is a run pass-type blocking. For them to hold off long enough and for Travis to find his own and sit down. Like said, I threw it to him, but after that, his running after the catch was unbelievable.”