Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney’s message all along has been simple — if Trevor Lawrence does enough to earn the Tigers’ starting quarterback job, it will be obvious.
“If something changes, we’ll all see it,” Swinney said prior to the start of the season. “Everybody will have a front-row seat to see it.”
My seat at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday afternoon wasn’t on the front row, but with one 17-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, it became evident from the press box the time has come for a change and Lawrence deserves a shot to start.
The Tigers were leading 7-0 early in the second quarter but had yet to produce much offense when Lawrence entered the game in place of starting quarterback Kelly Bryant.
Clemson’s first two drives under Bryant resulted in eight plays for 13 yards, and the only score of the game had been a defensive touchdown as Lawrence jogged onto the field with the rest of the Clemson offense with 11:55 remaining in the second quarter.
It was the running game that got Clemson into the red zone on Lawrence’s first drive as Tavien Feaster, Travis Etienne and Adam Choice were mostly responsible for the Tigers moving to Georgia Tech’s 17-yard line.
And then came the throw.
Lawrence recognized the coverage that Georgia Tech was in and checked to a pass play at the line.
The 6-foot-6 quarterback then took the snap, rolled to his left and looked towards slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, who was the primary target on the play.
But the coverage was there.
Georgia Tech defensive back Tariq Carpenter was in good position on Renfrow’s hip, and defensive back Lamont Simmons was underneath but sprinting back to get in the passing lane.
As the play was unfolding, it appeared as though the best place for the ball to go would be the stands, but Lawrence saw just enough of a gap to let it fly.
“It’s just smash concepts and Hunter’s running a corner (route),” Lawrence said after the game. “I was waiting for that corner to bite up a little bit more, and I had to squeeze it in there a little bit.”
That’s a bit of an understatement.
Lawrence threw a rifle between the two defenders, perfectly placing the ball between the 1 and 3 on Renfrow’s No. 13 jersey.
Tigers co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott was watching Renfrow from the start on the play, knowing he was the intended target. Scott saw the tight coverage and wasn’t sure if the ball would get there or not.
“That was really special,” Scott said of the throw. “No. 1, being able to check it and identify it, and No. 2, being able to roll out to your left and make that play, that was a big-time throw… Trevor put the ball on the only place he could.”
The throw was an NFL-level throw that few quarterbacks in college football can make, and it showed just how dangerous Clemson’s offense can be with Lawrence behind center.
Lawrence went on to pass for four touchdowns on the day, including a 53-yard strike to Justyn Ross and a 30-yard score to Tee Higgins.
He was in for six drives and Clemson scored touchdowns on five of them in the 49-21 victory.
Lawrence struggled at times in practice during the spring trying to fit balls into small windows that weren’t always there. But he has now found the balance between identifying a risk worth taking and a risk that could result in a turnover.
“When I first got to college, I tried to do that a little too much and tried to squeeze some throws in there at practice that, obviously, I learned from,” Lawrence said. “I’m still confident in my arm, though. I still felt like I could squeeze it in there (to Renfrow), and it worked out.”
Lawrence has passed for 600 yards and nine touchdowns through his first four games of his college career while splitting time with Bryant, who has passed for 461 yards and two touchdowns on six fewer pass attempts.
The senior Bryant still deserves to play as well.
Bryant returned to the game in the second half on Saturday and led the Tigers on a touchdown drive. He came up big in the second half at Texas A&M in Week 2, and he led the Tigers to the ACC championship and a College Football Playoff berth in his first year as a starter in 2017.
Bryant very well could be counted on to provide a spark and lead the Tigers to a victory later on this year.
But for now, it is obvious that Lawrence deserves his shot. And as Swinney suggested, we can all see it.