An estimated crowd of 55,000 was on hand for Clemson’s spring game Saturday afternoon at Death Valley as freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence made his Tigers debut.
Lawrence, who was rated the No. 1 overall recruit for the class of 2018, did not disappoint the Clemson fans who poured into Memorial Stadium to watch the Tigers play in a game-like setting for the final time until September.
The Georgia native tossed his second pass of the game for a 50-yard touchdown to Tee Higgins, perfectly placing the long ball that hit Clemson’s lengthy receiver in stride.
Lawrence finished 11-for-16 passing for 122 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, leading the Orange to a 28-17 victory.
“Trevor getting his first experience. It’s hard to start any better than that, to come out and throw a beautiful touchdown pass,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s a very poised young player. He’s been exposed to a lot. He’s a kid that’s been starting since the ninth grade. He’s played some big games. Obviously, this is a big deal out here today, but he’s very well-groomed and very well-prepared to take the next step. ... He’s off to a really good start.”
Lawrence impressed with his poise and arm strength throughout the afternoon and threw the best deep ball of any of Clemson’s quarterbacks.
He had the play of the game when on his first series he took the shotgun snap, faked a pitch to Tavien Feaster, dropped back and lofted a pass 55 yards in the air, hitting Higgins in stride as he crossed into the end zone. Higgins beat starting cornerback Mark Fields on the play.
“That was just a little play-action pass, a little pitch sweep, and I think Denzel (Johnson) did a nice job covering the tight end. That’s the first read on that, just a quick play-action yes or no. Denzel did an excellent job of taking him away and so he just went right back out ... and put it up,” Swinney said. “If you put it up there high enough and with enough air, that No. 5’s got a chance to go get it.”
Higgins finished with four receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns, all in the first half.
The White team, which was led by Kelly Bryant, struggled to find consistency on offense. Bryant, Clemson’s starting quarterback in 2017, finished 8-for-15 passing for 35 yards and had trouble with accuracy on deep throws.
Chase Brice, the other White team quarterback, threw three interceptions, including a pick-six to Trayvon Mullen, before connecting with Diondre Overton for a 50-yard touchdown in the final minutes. Mullen intercepted a pair of passes on the afternoon.
Brice completed 12 of 19 passes for 231 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
“Kelly didn’t do a whole lot. He missed a couple of throws early and was a little amped up. He came back and did a couple of things,” Swinney said. “Chase was excellent. He’s got a lot of moxie to him, and he competed hard.”
Sophomore quarterback Hunter Johnson, who was on the Orange team with Lawrence, completed 8 of 14 passes for 85 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for a 3-yard score early in the third quarter to give Clemson a 21-10 lead.
But it was Lawrence who was the most impressive quarterback on the day. The Georgia native also connected on a pair of deep throws that were called back because he was touched by a defender as he let the ball go and the quarterbacks were not live in the game.
Clemson’s defense finished with 12 sacks, as the White team had seven and the Orange had five.
Christian Wilkins, who surprised many by opting to return for his senior season, was dominant up front, finishing with four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
Freshmen KJ Henry and Xavier Thomas also had a pair of sacks, as did sophomore Justin Foster.
In addition to Mullen's two interceptions, K’Von Wallace and AJ Terrell also had picks.
Senior receiver Trevion Thompson, who is looking to have a breakout year, caught four passes for 76 yards, including a couple of tough grabs with a defender all over him.
Travis Etienne had eight carries for 44 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to lead the running backs.