CLEMSON, S.C. — Now that we’ve seen Trevor Lawrence in a game, seen with our own eyes what “special” looks like, the prevailing sentiment around Clemson’s football program is that it’s only a matter of time.
As in only a matter of time before the much-celebrated (and immensely talented) true freshman is Clemson’s quarterback of record.
All Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is saying right now is that senior Kelly Bryant and Lawrence will both again play Saturday when the No. 2 Tigers hit the road to take on Texas A&M at Kyle Field, a matchup and an environment that should provide a lot more answers about which direction the Tigers will indeed go with their quarterback situation.
We’ll call it a situation instead of a controversy because this is just the kind of competition that has defined Clemson football under Swinney, who has a mantra that has resonated with a program that has made the College Football Playoff for three consecutive seasons.
“If you take a day off around here, you’re going to get exposed,” Swinney is fond of saying.
Now, nobody’s suggesting that Bryant, who started in the season-opening 48-7 rout of Furman, has taken a day off. In fact, he was particularly sharp during preseason camp, showcased his leadership skills all the way through and passed for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and didn’t turn the ball over in the opener against the Paladins.
And to be fair, he was the quarterback of record a year ago when the Tigers, despite key personnel losses to the NFL, won the ACC championship and made it back to the College Football Playoff before being smothered 24-6 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl by eventual national champion Alabama.
“Kelly won 12 games and was a couple of plays away from taking the lead in the third quarter against Alabama,” Swinney told ESPN this spring as the hype around Lawrence was beginning to swirl. “The two interceptions he had, neither one was his fault, but those changed the game. He had a couple of drops, and he had some mistakes, too. But even if we had won that game, we’re still having this conversation because there is no lifetime contract here.
“Everybody has to prove they are the best player every day.”
In the long run, it’s hard to bet against Lawrence not being that player, but he still has to go prove it — in the games. Better yet, as Swinney noted following the victory over Furman, Bryant has done nothing to disprove that he can be that player, either.
“You see that both of them can throw it and they both make things happen, and it doesn’t matter to us who’s in there,” said Clemson sophomore receiver Amari Rodgers, who caught a perfectly placed 40-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to ignite the Tigers’ scoring last weekend. “We’ve been working with both since the spring. We know what they can do, and it’s like we always say around here: If you don’t want to compete, then Clemson’s not the place for you.”
Lawrence, who is 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, has undeniable arm talent. But he also has a nice feel in the pocket and the athleticism to buy some time and use his super-smooth release to get rid of the ball in a hurry. He’s tall, but hardly gangly. And he made a throw in the second quarter against Furman, an 18-yard out all the way across the field to Trevion Thompson, that not a lot of college quarterbacks can make, certainly not a lot of true freshmen.
“He’s got a big arm. We all know that,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He’s got the height to be able to see it where some guys may not be able to see it to make that throw. So, he’s got the arm. He’s just got to continue to develop within the system, and he’ll have the opportunity each week.”
And if the rotation continues for a while, nobody in Clemson’s camp seems to be fretting.
“For us, it’s not a major deal,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “It’s not something we spend a lot of time talking about. Some people are playing two quarterbacks because they’re trying to find out if they have one good enough to win with. That’s a whole different conversation, a whole different worry as a coach. Our situation is that we have two guys that are very effective. We don’t call the game any differently with either of those guys in there.
“Until something changes, it’s not a concern to us.”
The reality is that Clemson is strong enough everywhere else on its roster, particularly on the defensive line, to beat just about anybody on its schedule regardless of who’s at quarterback. The young talent alone at running back, receiver and tight end is especially impressive.
“We’ve got about 10 guys to throw to,” Lawrence said. “Any quarterback would love that.”
But as the Alabama loss last season proved, the margin for error against the elite defenses shrinks considerably. The Tigers have to be able to strike down the field in the passing game. Lawrence clearly provides that dimension, but he’s also yet to play on that kind of stage. Bryant has, and by all accounts, made huge strides from this time a year ago.
“The ideal scenario for us is they both play well, and we’ll figure it out from there,” Scott said.
Not a bad problem to have.