Senkiw: Why Clemson Needed to Make Trevor Lawrence its Starting QB
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Trevor Lawrence
- Trevor Lawrence has been the most efficient and explosive quarterback for Clemson this season.
- Clemson's spread against Syracuse jumped four points after the freshman got the starting nod.
- Despite already being 4-0, the Tigers can reach their peak potential with Lawrence at quarterback.
Editor’s Note: Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has decided to transfer out of the program since this story was published.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s decision to make freshman Trevor Lawrence the starting quarterback Saturday against Syracuse over senior Kelly Bryant wasn’t based on emotion, or even a loss.
For Swinney, it’s a numbers game.
“Kelly has not done anything wrong,” Swinney said. “Kelly has played well, and the statistics bear that out. It’s just pure productivity and data. We’ve got four games of productivity and data. This kid has earned the opportunity to start this week.”
No. 3 Clemson made an interesting, and maybe nontraditional, decision when it used a two-quarterback system to determine its best option. Through four games and a lot of split snaps, it’s clear this is the right move based on how the offense has performed under each.
With Lawrence in at QB, Clemson’s offense is averaging 8.23 yards per play. Under Bryant, 6.5 yards per play.
The Tigers are also averaging 1.74 more points per drive with the freshman.
Overall, Lawrence has 600 yards on 39-of-60 passing. Bryant has 461 yards on 36-of-54 passing.
Lawrence’s 10.0 yards per pass attempt ranks 10th nationally, and his nine touchdowns are tied for 23rd. Bryant, who’s averaging a respectable 8.5 yards per pass, has two touchdowns through the air and two via the ground.
See, Swinney’s right. Bryant, who is 16-2 as a starter, hasn’t been bad at all, and he’s also added 130 more yards with his legs.
However, Lawrence has proven to be more efficient and explosive.
Last week at Georgia Tech, the Clemson offense scored on five of Lawrence’s six drives, and he threw four touchdown passes to help the Tigers score a season-high 49 points. Bryant led one touchdown drive, a Tavien Feaster scoring run.
And you don’t even need hard data to know this offense just flows better with Lawrence at the helm.
“There is no question (Lawrence) has elite, elite ability to push the ball down the field,” Swinney said. “That’s pretty obvious to see.”
He gets the ball to receivers on screens quicker. Defenses have to respect the deep pass and not creep up to the line of scrimmage. That opened up Clemson’s explosive running game in Atlanta, where Travis Etienne averaged 11.1 yards per carry.
“He just continues to extend plays and has good pocket presence,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He made some good throws, and I think all three quarterbacks can make those plays, but the big thing is when you have those opportunities in a game setting, you’ve got to make those throws.”
Lawrence did that early in the game, when he picked up an offense that had just 13 total yards over the first two possessions and he capped his first drive when he rolled out to his left and threw a 17-yard TD strike to Hunter Renfrow on the move.
🏈🏈🏈🏈 TDs on the road vs. #GT
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) September 24, 2018
It was right to bring Lawrence along slowly considering three of the first four games were against Furman, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
We’ll never know for sure what Lawrence would have done with a full game in his first road contest, but the Tigers needed Bryant to win 28-26 at Texas A&M, as the senior came through with two huge second-half touchdowns.
Now they need Lawrence to see more snaps — maybe even the vast majority of them — because going with youth over experience puts Clemson in position to reach its peak potential, which could be a national title.
And the betting market has already adjusted.
Undefeated Clemson opened up the week as a 20-point favorite at home against 4-0 Syracuse, but the line moved up four points to -24. The total has gone from 61.5 to 66.
The question that still needs to be answered is, how much time will Bryant see? The coaching staff makes it sound like the senior will remain involved in the game plan, but based on Lawrence’s current trajectory, this may look more like Florida’s Chris Leak-Tim Tebow scenario from more than a decade ago than a continuation of shared reps.
If Clemson fully commits to Lawrence, it won’t be just spreads and game totals to keep an eye on. Team totals, national title odds and maybe even the Heisman could provide intriguing value at some point.
Brad Senkiw is a contributor to The Action Network and hosts The Press Box weekdays, 9 a.m.-noon ET on WCCP 105.5 The Roar.