Clemson had a lot of big plays in 2019, but five were really important
When a team wins 14 games by an average margin of 33.8 points per game, it can be difficult to choose the top plays of a season because there are so many.
Also, is a top play necessarily an important play? To me, it is all the same. What makes a play really great, too me, is the level of importance it places on the outcome of a game or in a season.
Granted, guys like Travis Etienne, Trevor Lawrence, Isaiah Simmons, Tee Higgins, and Justyn Ross made their fair share of big plays in 2019. But let’s be honest. In all but two of those games, Clemson still would have won even without those plays.
Below is what I thought were the biggest plays from Clemson’s 2019 season and a description of what happened to go with each.
- Higgins gives the Tigers the lead, Sept. 28 at North Carolina: The Tar Heels moved the ball past midfield following a couple of Michael Carter runs. But Clemson linebacker James Skalski nearly picked off a pass and then on back-to-back plays Isaiah Simmons teamed up with his friends to stop the Tar Heels for no gain, including a Javonte Williams run on fourth-and-one. That Clemson the ball in good field position and Trevor Lawrence quickly moved the Tigers into UNC territory. On third-and-6 from 38, the sophomore found wide receiver Tee Higgins down the seam, where the 6-foot-4 receiver took the ball and raced into the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was Clemson’s first lead of the game. And it turned out to be the winning touchdown.
- Clemson’s defense comes through in the end, Sept. 28 at North Carolina: Clemson’s defense allowed North Carolina to drive the ball 75 yards in 16 plays while eating up 8 minutes and 32 seconds in the fourth quarter. But when it mattered the most, with the game on the line, they rose up. With 1:17 to play in the game, North Carolina running back Javonte Williams scored on a 1-yard run in what looked like the game-tying touchdown. But UNC head coach Mack Brown decided to go for the win instead of tying the game and possibly going into overtime. Quarterback Sam Howell rolled to his right and before he could pitch the ball defensive end Xavier Thomas hit him and then linebacker James Skalski and Nolan Turner finished him off to prevent the successful try as No. 1 Clemson hung on for a 21-20 victory.
- Etienne scores the go-ahead TD against the Buckeyes, Dec. 29 at the Fiesta Bowl: The Tigers took a 29-23 lead with 1:49 to play in the game after quarterback Trevor Lawrence hit running back Travis Etienne with a jump pass, which the Jennings, La., native took to the end zone for what turned out to be the game winning score. Clemson started the drive at its own 6-yard line, but the Tigers needed just four plays to cover the 94 yards. Lawrence first hit 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. On the next play, Lawrence faked like he was running the football on a quarterback run, a play he ran several times in the game, but instead he popped up and threw a pass to Etienne who ran to the end zone while carrying a couple of Buckeyes with him.
- Lawrence uses his legs to get the Tigers back in the game, Dec. 29 at the Fiesta Bowl: One might think Travis Etienne’s game-winning touchdown might be in the No. 2 slot, but the fact of the matter is Etienne’s touchdown does not happen if Trevor Lawrence does not make his 67-yard touchdown run just before halftime. Following an Etienne touchdown to get Clemson on the board, the Tigers needed just five plays to find the end zone again. Lawrence found Justyn Ross for 16 yards on third-and-10 and after an incomplete pass to Diondre Overton, he took the ball up the middle on a designed quarterback run and then outran the Buckeyes’ defenders to the end zone. It was the longest run of his career and cut Ohio State’s lead to 16-14 with 1:10 to play before halftime.
- Turner sends Tigers to the national championship game, Dec. 29 at the Fiesta Bowl: With Ohio State driving for what appeared to be a possible winning touchdown, a miscommunication from quarterback Justin Fields and Chris Olave allowed Clemson safety Nolan Turner to intercept Fields’ pass in the end zone, sealing No. 3 Clemson’s 29-23 victory over the second-ranked Buckeyes. Olave thought Fields was going to throw the ball to the outside, instead Fields went the other way where only Turner was there to snag the pass and send Clemson to the national championship game.
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