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Expecting a sophomore slump from the freshman phenom? Don’t hold your breath…..
Throughout the Tigers dominating run through the CFP last season, the rest of the country was let in on the secret of something Clemson fans were aware of for multiple years, that this Trevor Lawrence kid was pretty good. When Dabo Swinney kept reiterating that he was further ahead as a freshman than Deshaun Watson was, many took it as just more coach speak from the Tigers head coach. Let’s face it, Dabo has mastered the art of coach speak, but in this instance, he was dropping facts, not spinning for the media.
After starting his freshman season splitting time with Kelly Bryant, Lawrence got his first start in week five and this offense never looked back. As good as the offense was with him at the controls during the regular season, it was the performances in two blowout wins in the playoff that really stood out.
In the wins over both Notre Dame and Alabama in the CFP, the Tigers had found rushing yards hard to come by, leaving the team facing third and long more often than they were accustomed too. That’s when Lawrence took over and really showed what this offense is capable of with a QB of his caliber.
In the two games, Lawrence was 14-23 for 343 yards on third down pass attempts. That’s 14.9 yards per attempt. He also converted 13 of those third downs. Two downright dominant performances against two of the nation’s best defenses, and done in a way that was different than the way the offense attacked during the regular season.
Lawrence’s stunning ability to see everything developing so quickly as it unfolds and his deep throw accuracy is off the charts for a player with just 11 starts under his belt. Those elite level receivers he has at his disposal give him a margin for error that he doesn’t even need.
What’s really scary to think about is this offense really just started to show what it’s capable of in the playoff. As hard as it is to fathom, Justyn Ross still hasn’t made his first career start. For much of last season, the emphasis was placed on running the ball, and relying on the three headed monster at running back of Travis Erienne, Tavien Feaster, and Adam Choice. This offense has always preferred to use the run to set up the pass.
There really wasn’t a pass catching threat at the TE position last season. Garrett Williams was used in an H Back role and in passing situations Milan Richard was brought onto the field and flexed out in an effort to try and create mismatches for the other receivers.
Once the playoff started, the staff went with a different gameplan in passing situations. They went with a 10 personnel, which is one running back and four wideouts, with no tight end. The staff knew they had the perfect trigger man to pull it off, and pull it off they did.
With the abundance of talent at receiver, and it once again looking as if there will be no viable pass catching threat at the TE position, it’s very possible we see much more of these sets in the 2019 season. Ross is a matchup nightmare all by himself, but put him on the field at the same time with Tee Higgins and any combination of the other receivers, and that nightmare gets even scarier for opposing defensive coordinators across the country.
Make no mistake, the passing game we saw in the playoff was just a precursor of things to come. Yes, this is always going to be an offense designed to run the ball, and that’s not going to change. What will change somewhat is how the team attacks opposing defenses with the passing game.
It’s just one more example of how dynamic the duo of Tony Eliott and Jeff Scott can be designing gameplans and calling plays. Those two have always been very proactive in their efforts to keep this offense evolving and making the proper adjustments based on the talent available. Seeing as there’s not much competition on the schedule, the question becomes, exactly how much will they have to or will want to show before the postseason starts.
Clemson opponents in 2019 are once again going to have to pick their poison. Last year after Lawrence took over we saw a lot of teams putting an emphasis on stopping the run and making the freshman beat em, and beat them he did. With this new aspect of the passing game and teams now knowing exactly how lethal Lawrence is throwing the ball, opposing teams might make an extra effort to slow down the passing attack, leaving the running backs more room to do their own damage.