Clemson makes change, names Trevor Lawrence starting quarterback

Clemson is making a switch at quarterback.

The program announced Monday morning that true freshman Trevor Lawrence will start on Saturday against Syracuse, taking over for senior Kelly Bryant.

Lawrence and Bryant have split time throughout the season, but Lawrence received the bulk of the playing time in the Week 4 win over Georgia Tech. On their first two drives of the game, the Tigers mustered just 13 total yards and one first down with Bryant at quarterback. With Lawrence in the game, Clemson scored on three of its next four drives.

Lawrence finished the game 13-of-18 for 176 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. By comparison, Bryant, who re-entered the game with Clemson holding a big lead, was 6-of-10 for 56 yards.

Through four games, Lawrence is 39-of-60 for 600 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Bryant is 36-of-54 for 461 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Bryant has 130 rushing yards compared to 24 for Lawrence.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws downfield for a completion against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws downfield for a completion against Texas A&M during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

What does this mean for Clemson?

Despite the 4-0 start, Clemson’s offense has been underwhelming at times. In Week 3 against Georgia Southern, the Tigers did not score until midway through the second quarter. The offense had yet another slow start on Saturday against Georgia Tech. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has typically gone to Lawrence on the third offensive series of the game, and this game was no different.

With Lawrence under center, the Tigers went right down the field, going 74 yards in seven plays capped off with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to Hunter Renfrow. The Tigers needed just two plays the next time out, with Lawrence connecting with a wide-open Justyn Ross for a 53-yard score.

Lawrence threw an interception on Clemson’s next drive, but finished out the half with a third touchdown pass, this time to running back Travis Etienne with just five seconds left in the half.

It was indicative of how things have been throughout the year, as detailed by ESPN’s David Hale. The offense has just been more productive with Lawrence at quarterback:

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If it became clear to Swinney and the rest of the staff that the team was better with Lawrence, it was the right time to make a move.

“He really played well. Certainly his best game so far,” Swinney said during his Sunday teleconference. “He was very poised. The game has slowed down for him. He’s making good decisions. He made a nice check on the touchdown to Hunter Renfrow. He made some beautiful throws and then he missed one there. Just some technical things he can clean up. But he managed the pocket well. He’s accurate. He took advantage of what I call some layups, things that are built into the run game. He did a lot of good things, for sure. Definitely still room for improvement. Every week is a season of its own. But definitely his best game. Six drives and he had five touchdowns.”

Clemson is following a familiar blueprint

Back in 2014, Clemson began the year with senior Cole Stoudt as its starting quarterback while giving a freshman named Deshaun Watson some playing time as well. By the time Week 4 rolled around, Swinney made Watson, a five-star recruit, his starter.

It took Lawrence, also a five-star recruit, a week longer than Watson to earn the No. 1 role. That’s because of Bryant’s track record — a 16-2 record in 18 career starts.

Bryant spent two seasons as Watson’s backup before seizing the starting role in 2017. He had a pretty good year, throwing for 2,802 yards while completing 65.8 percent of his passes to lead the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff. But he threw only 13 touchdowns to go with eight interceptions and struggled mightily in Clemson’s CFP semifinal loss to Alabama.

Lawrence enrolled early as the country’s No. 1 quarterback prospect and quickly impressed. Lawrence moved past Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit from the 2017 class, on the depth chart, prompting Johnson’s transfer to Northwestern.

But Swinney wasn’t ready to name Lawrence for Week 1, so he followed the blueprint of 2014.

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