1/2 (1 TD)
2/4 (1 TD)
1/3 (1 TD)
3/5 (1 TD)
1/1 (1 TD)
3/3 (1 TD)
5/5 (1 TD)
9/11 (1 TD)
6/10 (1 TD)
24/32 (3 TD)
Outside the Pocket: 5/7 (plus one throwaway)
Under Pressure: 4/5 (plus one throwaway)
Red Zone: 5/6 (2 TD)
3rd/4th Down: 5/6 (five conversions, plus one throwaway)
Forced Adjustments: 1
A few games into the 2019 season, some analysts were ready to hit the eject button on the Trevor Lawrence hype vessel. Lawrence had been crowned the next-great-thing after his dominating performance in last year’s playoff, but fell flat early in his sophomore season. Two games in, Lawrence had thrown two touchdowns to three interceptions and was moving the offense at just 7.5 yards per pass. The golden-haired Howitzer wasn’t performing anywhere near the level many expected him to, at least not by the numbers.
Lawrence course corrected a few weeks later. After another shaky performance against Louisville and a nine-throw game against Charlotte, Lawrence returned to his natural form and regained his status among the nation’s elite passers. By then, though, Clemson had already been pushed down in the national conversation, equal parts because their early schedule was boring and because their superstar quarterback looked super frazzled through the first month of the season.
Regardless of the brightness of the spotlight cast upon him as of late, Lawrence has been an ascended being since the start of the North Carolina game on Sept. 28. He has completed 71.77% of his passes for 1,945 yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions over that span. Lawrence’s adjusted yards per attempt, which gives a yardage value to touchdowns (+20) and interceptions (-45), comes out to 10.86 AY/A. That is not quite as ridiculous as the numbers Tua Tagovailoa or any Oklahoma QB has put up, but it’s more than two full yards better than Deshaun Watson ever produced at Clemson. Granted, Lawrence has better receivers right now than Watson did, and it’s a bit early to declare Lawrence a better prospect than Watson was, but that he can outproduce the school’s greatest quarterback — a king slayer — as just a true sophomore is a hell of a feat.
Lawrence is excellent for a seemingly endless list of reasons, but much of his skill set riffs off of how impressive his arm talent is. Though he sets up plays well through field vision and pocket movement, it’s Lawrence’s raw arm talent that separates him from even the typical “elite” quarterback. Lawrence can make throws down the field and into tight windows that almost any quarterback in college football simply do not have the arm strength for.
This bomb from Lawrence is eerily similar to the strike former Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray threw against Alabama in the playoff last season. While Murray’s throw required a bit more moving around, both throws flew about 55 yards in the air and dropped down right into the receiver’s breadbasket. A handful of quarterbacks can make similar throws while standing in clean pockets, but to navigate around defenders and make the throw while sliding up in the pocket is no simple task. Even in Lawrence’s clip, you can see him put everything into his back leg and spring off of it like it held the energy of a thousand suns. It’s not normal to have that kind of power, much less control it that way.
It’s not just raw strength that impresses about Lawrence’s arm, either. This is not a Josh Allen situation in which he has top 99.99-percentile arm strength, but almost zero understanding of how to control it correctly. Lawrence, in part because he always knows how to adjust his body to throw comfortably, can find his “peak” ball placement more regularly than a majority of quarterbacks are able to.
This awful snap strips Lawrence of any chance to go through his drop back or early reads properly. By the time Lawrence picks the ball up and gets into a stable stance, the ball has to come out almost immediately despite him not having really seen the field. Lawrence immediately snaps his attention to the fade toward the right sideline. After a couple hitches to close the gap on a far throw from the left hash to the right sideline, Lawrence unleashes a teardrop that graces the wide receiver’s hands right on the sideline with zero room to spare. Any further inside and the defensive back might be able to leap to get a hand on it, while any further toward the outside and this sails right out of bounds. Though the announcer calls this incomplete at the end of the clip, a booth review proved the receiver had a foot in bounds for a touchdown.
It’s not just that Lawrence could fit that throw in at all, it’s that he could do so after having his entire process thrown out the window due to the bad snap. This was not Lawrence following the exact rule book for a passing concept to make a clean throw from the pocket. Rather, this was Lawrence showing off his sharp problem solving and ability to summon fantastic accuracy even during a seemingly derailed play.
Sometimes Lawrence’s adjustments are more subtle. Not every adaptation mid-play needs to be a stunning scramble or end in a spectacular throw. Often times, all a quarterback needs to do is make a minor slide or short roll to set themselves up for an easier throw than if they just stayed dormant in the pocket. Be it to clear up a passing window or close the distance toward a target, the best quarterbacks know how to move in a way that sets up an easier throw.
Lawrence wants the skinny post/crosser flowing over the middle of the field. After finishing the hand-off fake, he has to make the decision as to whether or not it is open. Lawrence appears to be aware of the linebacker to the left (#6) trailing back to the middle of the field, while the safety over the skinny post/crosser does well to drive on the route break and not give up leverage. Unless Lawrence plans on making an unnecessarily difficult throw, that middle of the field route is not open. Lawrence then moves his eyes to the receiver on the far right sideline. While it’s tough to say for certain without the playbook in front of me, it seems as though the receiver was supposed to be vertical but kept his eyes on Lawrence because he got capped so early. Lawrence bails the pocket to his right and the receiver follows, tracking back to the quarterback while riding the sideline. With both players on the same page, Lawrence has no issue finding his guy for a completion.
Any worry about Lawrence that cropped up early in the season should be erased by now. Even when Lawrence was struggling in the box score early this year, he still showed many of the flashes that made him a star, the consistency just wasn’t there. Last month, Lawrence admitted to feeling pressure about “living up to the expectations” that were set for him and how easy can be for someone to start thinking about those things. Once he was able to shred that pressure of expectation, Lawrence says, he has played more freely and like himself. All that troublesome inconsistency has washed away since Lawrence had that revelation.
Lawrence and the Tigers still have a job to finish, though. All signs point to them obliterating Virginia in the ACC championship, setting them up for a semi-final playoff game against someone like Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, or (let’s hope not) Utah. While Clemson haven’t been as compelling a story this season as LSU or Ohio State, they are every bit as dominant and will make for a rare dramatic semi-final game. Clemson has a good shot at the title if Lawrence can keep up the pace.